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“Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the 
Nauvoo Stake High Council, 184Q-1844 


Gary James Bergera' 

When Mormon prophet Joseph Smith embraced twenty-six-year-old Louisa Beaman as his 
first documented celestial, or plural, wife on 5 April 1841," he inaugurated a penod of uncer¬ 
tainty and confusion among some in his young church, headquartered in Nauvoo, Illinois. Both 
the female Relief Society and male Nauvoo Stake High Council, whose members took seri¬ 
ously their charge to safeguard the morals of the Mississippi Riverfront boomtown, acted 
swiftly to suppress unauthorized erotic impulses. But because of the secrecy with which the 
thirty-five-year-old Smith cloaked his revelation of eternal patriarchal marriage. 3 most members 
of these bodies did not know that some of the activities they were investigating enjoyed the 
prophet’s imprimatur. In fact, by the time Emma (Hale) Smith, president of the Relief Society, 
learned of her husband’s celestial unions, he had already taken as part of the "restoration of all 
things" twenty women, including several of her close associates. The Relief Society’s rocky 
intersection with the prophet’s controversial teachings has been plumbed elsewhere, 4 the Nau¬ 
voo High Council’s has not.' 

Exploring the beginnings of Mormon plural marriage opens a door into an intimate world 
of men and women grappling with their prophet’s innovative teachings on sexuality, gender 
roles, domestic relations, the patriarchal family, and exaltation. The stealth with which Smith 
propounded his doctrine of multiple wives facilitated the rise of rival teachings and independent 
uiterpretations (especially when his plural wives had living legal husbands). 6 "(H)e instructed 
those with whom he discussed the subject,” explains Mormon researcher Rex Eugene Cooper, 
"to keep silent and feign ignorance if questioned directly." 7 ”(T]he Prophet’s efforts to protect 


Copyright the Smith-Pettit Foundation. 

1 Gary James Bergera is managing director of die Smidv-Pettit Foundation, Salt lake City, 
and the author of Conflict in the Quorum Orson Pratt. Brigham Young. Joseph Smith (Salt Lake 
City: Signature Books, 2002). I appreciate the advice and encouragement of H. Michael 
Marouardt, George D. Smith, and others. 

* Sec Todd Compton. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural If'nw of Joseph Smith (Salt l.ake 
City: Signature Books, 1997), 59. 

3 "Early Mormon ism was steeped in secrecy." observes Dane I W. Bachman, "A Study of the 
Mormon Practice of Plural Marriage before the Death of Joseph Smith," M.A. thesis, Purdue 
University, 1975.192. 

See, for exanplc. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma Emma 
Hale Smith, second edition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 106-118. 

5 For brief treatments, see Bachman, 129-133, 226-227; and Andrew F. Smith, The Saintly 
Scoundrel: The Life and Times of John Cook Bennett (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 
87-91. 

6 See Compton, 15-29. 

Rex Eugene Cooper, Promises Made to the Fathers: Mormon Covenant Organization (Salt 
Lake City: University of Utah Press. 1990), 135-136. "Elders had no right to promulate anything 

59 




60 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


himself, the church, and those directly involved," adds Danel W. Bachman, an LDS historian of 
Mormon plural marriage, “led to some of the most serious miscalculations of his life.” 8 
Examining the records of Nauvoo’s high council enables a fuller appreciation of early Mormon 
polygamy, of the challenges facing Smith in attempting to control the spread of his new doc¬ 
trine, and of the difficulties confronting those poorly informed or completely ignorant of the 
prophet’s teachings in navigating the sometimes murky waters of love, marriage, and sex. 

In taking additional wives, Smith believed he was not only following under penalty of 
spiritual death a divine commandment to strengthen the family unit, but exercising a righteous 
prerogative of God’s chosen. “[TJhe Lord had given him the keys of this sealing ordinance,” his 
cousin remembered, and “he felt as liberal to others as he did to himself. . . and said to me 
‘You should not be behind your privileges.’ ” 9 Despite the hardships, Smith was convinced that 
his actions helped to usher in Christ’s millennial reign, while blessing forever not only the 
women, their parents, and families, but—through priesthood ordinances of eternal marriage and 
adoption—united their own husbands and their families in an expanding web of familial and 
social inter-relationships. 10 ”[Tlhe thing that my servant Joseph Smith has made known unto 
you and your Family and which you have agreed upon,” the Lord told the father of one of the 
prophet’s young brides, “is right in mine eyes and shall be rewarded upon vour heads with 
honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old & young.” 1 “Oh Lord my 
God," Smith subsequently blessed this man’s daughter, 

thou that dwellest on high bless I bcscach of thee the one into whose hands this may fall and 
crown her with a diadem of glory in the Eternal worlds Oh let it be sealed this day on high that 
she shall come forth in the first rcscrTCCtion to recicvc the same and verily it shall be so saith the 
Lord if she remain in the Everlasting covenant to the end as also all her Fathers house shall be 
saved in the same Eternal glory and if any of them shall wander from the foald of the Lord they 
shall not perish but shall return saith the Lord and be saivcd m and by repentance be crowned 


but that which they were authorized to teach," future LDS Apostle Charles W. Penrose later 
explained. “And when assailed by their enemies and accused of practising things which were really 
not countenanced in the Church, they were justified in denying those imputations and at the same 
time avoiding the avowal of such doctrines as were not yet intended for the world.’’ “Joseph Smith 
and Celestial Marriage," Deseret Evening News (20 May 1886). “(TJhey were not denials of plural 
or celestial marriage," added Hymrn Smith's son and future LDS Church President Joseph F. 
Smith, “as taught by Joseph Smith and practiced at the time by both of them [i.e., Joseph and 
Hynim], and many others in prominent standing in the church. These seeming denials themselves 
arc specific proofs of the evidence of the true cnm. the counterfeit of which they denounced." 
"Celestial Marriage,” Deseret E\ening News (20 May 1886). 

8 Bachman, 232. 

9 George A. Smith to Joseph Smith III, 9 October 1869, in Journal History, Archives, Church 
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; hereafter LDS Archives. 

10 See, for example, Cooper, Promises, 138—147. 

11 Quoted in “A Revelation to N(ewel]. K. Whitney," 27 July 1842, reprinted in The Essential 
Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 165. “A main motive of some plural 
marriages seems to have been to extend this saving power through the sealed woman to members 
of her family.” Cooper, Promises. 140. 




"Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 61 


with all the fullness of the glory of the Everlasting Gospel. These promises I seal upon all of 
their heads in the name of Jesus Christ by the Law of the Holy Priesthood even so Amen. 1 ' 

On the other hand, failure to obey God’s commands could mean eternal damnation. 
"[PJrepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you,” 
the Lord proclaimed in the revelation announcing plural marriage; "for all those who have this 
law revealed unto them must obey the same. For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an ever¬ 
lasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject 
this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory" (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 132:3-4). 
As a result. Smith judged that all "eternal" contracts not sanctioned, or sealed, by the power of 
his restored priesthood authority were ultimately invalid. 15 "All covenants, oaths, vows, per¬ 
formances, connections, associations, or expectations," the Lord continued, 

that arc not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is 

anointed,... arc of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead_ 

Therefore, if a man many him a wife in the world, and he many her not by me nor by my word, 
and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their convenant and 
marriage arc not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, 
they are not bound by any law when they arc out of the world, —verses 7,15 
"(T)he Prophet felt." Bachman concludes, "that only those who had his approval could 
properly exercise the religious ordinance (of mamage), and that he could void marriages that 
were not valid in eternity”' 4 "Believing that one’s eternal exaltation depended on Joseph 
Smith,” adds Kathryn M. Daynes, a historian at Brigham Young University, "ensured loyalty to 
him, especially when his power extended not only to his plural wives but also to their families. 
Mormons’ concern with their salvation was strong and immediate because of their millenarian 
belief that the end of the world and the second coming of Christ would happen, not imminently 
but in tiic not-far-distant future." 15 

During the first two years after Nauvoo’s founding, its stake high council, under the First 
Presidency (Smith and two counselors), moved authoritatively in both civil and religious 
spheres. But by early 1841, with the adoption of a city charier and election of a mayor and city 
council, the high council (usually a president, two counselors, and twelve high councilors) 
turned almost exclusively to ecclesiastical governance 16 As "watchmen upon the walls." high 


12 "Blessing Given to Sarah Ann Whitney by Joseph Smith. Nauvoo City, March 23, 1843," 
typescript of holograph. LDS Archives. 

n See Bachman. 124-136; and Conpton, 17-18. Of course. Mormons continued to contract 
civil marriages. Joseph Smith himself personally performed at least twelve such mamages in 
Nauvoo; his brother Hymrn twenty-six. See Lyndon W. Cook, conpiler, Nauwo Deaths and 
Marriages, 1839-1845 (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), 89-114. 

14 Bachman, 127. 

15 Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One Transformation of the Mormon Marriage 
System, 1840-1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 26. For more on non-polygamous 
eternal marriages, see my "The Earliest Eternal Sealings for Civilly Mamed Couples Living and 
Dead," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 (fall 2002): 41-66. 

16 See Glen M. Leonard, Nauxxto A Place of Peace, A People of Promise (Salt Lake City: 
Deseret Book CoTProvo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 92-97. For a discussion 
of the church's judicial system, see Edw in Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in 



62 John Whiimer Historical Association Journal 


councilors became the rapidly growing boomtown’s “conscience and schoolmaster.” 17 They 
tackled a range of disputes, “resolving disagreements between members," “deciding issues of 
individuals* standing in the church,” 18 upholding the innocent, and punishing the rebellious by 
expelling them from the body of believers (usually known as disfellowshipment, if temporary, 
or as excommunication, if more permanent). “This was a powerful tool ” writes Nauvoo histo¬ 
rian Glen M. Leonard, “for in a religious society to be excluded from fellowship effectively 
curbed a person’s opportunities—political, economic, social, and religious.” 19 

Prior to Nauvoo, cases of alleged sexual misbehavior brought before the church’s high 
councils for resolution had been few. Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, age twenty-four, had been 
expelled in 1833 for “unchristian conduct with the female sex” 20 (and then helped to produce 
and promote the first published anti-Mormon book). Two years later, Lorenzo Lewis (age 
unknown), convicted of “illicit intercourse with a female." was “cut off from the Church" but 
promised that “if he repent and humble himself to the satisfaction of the Church, he shall be 
received into it again.’ * 1 The next day, Lorenzo Dow Young, twenty-seven-year-old younger 
brother of church apostle Brigham Young, was charged with having declared that “poor men 
ought not to raise up seed or children," that “it was nght to have sexual intercourse notwith¬ 
standing,” and that “he did not intend to have any more children." The high council did not 
agree, although it is not clear which of Young’s declarations they disputed. Nonetheless, the 
chastened offender "made an humble acknowledgement" and was retained "in full fellowship 
as an Elder in the church of the Latter Day Saints." 22 He went on to father seven more children 
in addition to the four his wife, Persis Goodall, had already borne. 

One of the last cases involving possible sexual misconduct prior to Joseph Smith’s April 
1841 plural marriage concerned thirty-nine-year-old British native Theodore Turley. On 26 
January 1841, William Niswanger and Benjamin L Clapp charged their fellow seventy with, 
among other infractions, “unchristian conduct while on the sea for romping and kissing the 
females and dancingf;]... sleeping with two females coming up the Lakes and on the road to 
Dixons ferry " 2J Turley had immigrated to Canada in 1818 and converted to Mormonism nine 


the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1830-1900 
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988). 

17 Leonard, 96. 

"ibid., 95. 

15 Ibid 

20 See Kinland Council Minute Book. Fred C. Collier and William S. Harwell, editors (Salt 
Lake City: Collier’s Publishing Co., 1996), 14-15 (the original minutes are housed in the LDS 
Archives); also Joseph Smith et aL, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 
Period I. History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet by Himsef (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 
1973), 1:352. 

21 Kinland Council Minute Book, 143—144; Smith, History of the Church, 2:285. 

22 Kinland Council Minute Book, 145. 

2J Quoted in “Minutes of the High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Nauvoo, Illinois, 
1840-45," 6 February 1841, typescript prepared by Lyndon W. Cook, copy in my possession, 
original in LDS Archives; hereafter Nauvoo High Council Minutes. Copies are also available in H. 
Michael Marquardt Papers, Western Americana, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake 




•'Illicit Intercourse" Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 63 


years later. He suffered through the persecutions of the Saints in Ohio and Missouri, and in 
1839 returned to England to preach his new religion. In early September 1840, he presided over 
the second shipload of Mormon emigrants. numbering 200, from Liverpool to New York City, 
arriving in Nauvoo in late November." Turley could be domineering and autocratic, and 
Niswanger and Clapp's allegations may have been provoked as much by an imperious person¬ 
ality as by any actual misdeeds.* 5 

Turley insisted he was innocent and. as customary, members of the high council presented 
arguments on both sides. The charges were soon sustained, however, after which 

the President decided that he, the defendant, in order to retain his fellowship, should acknowl¬ 
edge, both before the Council, and also, to a publick congregation, that he had acted unwisely, 
unjustly, imprudently, and unbecoming, and that he had set a bad example before his brethren 
and sisters as he was coming over from Europe. 

The Council sanctioned the President's decision!.) Elder Theodore Turley then made a 
confession to the satisfaction of the Council, and stated that he would rejoice in the opportunity 
of making the like confession before the publick.* 6 

Despite the reference to "sleeping with two females," it is not certain that sexual contact 
occurred (the issue seems to have been Turley's "bad example”). Nor is it clear whom "Presi¬ 
dent" referred to: William Marks, forty-eight-ycar-old president of the Nauvoo Stake, or Joseph 
Smith, president of the church in whose office the council met 27 (In early 1844, Turley would 
take as one of his fust plural wives a young woman who had sailed with him to America; while 
his accusers would both be excommunicated, Niswanger in 1842 or 1843, Clapp in 1859.) 


City, and on New Mormon Studies CD-ROM: A Comprehensiw Resource Library> (San 
Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1998). In addition, typed excerpts may be found in D. 
Michael Quinn Papers, Beinecke Library. Yale University. New Haven. Connecticut. 

24 See The Theodore Turley Family Book Nancy Romans T urley and Lawrence Edward 
Turley, compilers (n.p., 1978), 16-45. 

In fact, the other two charges Niswanger and Clapp leveled against Turley related directly 
to this penchant. "3. For not settling with the brethren for what money he recieved of them, and 
taking die lumber from the boat without leave. 4. For threatning the brethren that Brother Joseph 
[Smith] would not hear any thing that they would not tell him about him for he was of the same 
spirit and signified the same Priesthood signifying if they told him he would not hear them." 
Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 6 February 1841. 

26 Ibid. 

27 D. Michael Quinn, in The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: 
Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates. 1994), 632, suggests it was Smith 
who forgave Turley. On the other hand, the minutes of the next meeting of the high council refer 
specifically to "President William Marks" (30 March 1841). 




64 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


Table 1. Twenty-three Cases of Alleged Sexual Misconduct 
Brought before the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 


Plaintiff vs. Defendant 

George Miller vs. Chauneey L. Higbee 

George Miller vs. Catherine Warren 

George Miller vs. Lyman O. Littlefield 

George Miller vs. Darwin Chase 

George Miller vs. Joel S. Miles 

George Miller vs. Justus Morse 

Elijah Everett vs. Gustavus Hills 

William Marks vs. Enoch King and Mary Ware Eggleston 


William Marks vs. Henry Cook 

William Marks vs. John Thorp and Sarah Miller 

[William Marks vs.) John C. Annis 

[William Marks vs.] Thomas Prouse and Charity Thorp 

[William Marks vs.] William Wilsey 

[William Marks vs.) John Blazzard and Mrs. Pool 

Charles C. Rich vs. James Reed and Mary Powell 

[William Marks vs.] John Wells Taylor and Mary Cook 

Thomas Woolsey vs. Job Green 

Isaac Allred vs. John P. Hendrickson 

Israel Brown vs. Elizabeth Rowe 

Austin Cowles vs. George J. Adams 

Sidney Roberts vs. Quartus S. Sparks 

Joseph Smith vs. William Henry Harrison Sagers 

Lucinda Sagers vs. William Henry Hanison Sagers 


Date(s) 

20 May 1842 
25 May 1842 
27 May 1842 
27/28 May 1842 

27 May 1842 

28 May 1842 

3/4 September 1842 
21/28 January/ 

11 February 1843 

21 January 1843 
21 January 1843 
21 January 1843 

21 January 1843 
28 January 1843 

28 January/4 February 1843 
28 January 1843 
28 January 1843 
4 March 1843 
1 April 1843 

22 July 1843 

1/7 September 1843 
17/or/18 November 1843 
25 November 1843 
13 April 1844 


Of greater significance were accusations brought a year later, in May 1842, against twenty- 
one-year-old Chauneey L. Higbee during the fust in a senes of sexually charged inquests. 
Stones of forbidden seductions sanctioned by Joseph Smith and/or others—notably his loqua¬ 
cious confidant John C. Bennett—had circulated for the past several months. From April 1841 
to April 1842, Smith had secretly married eight women and would marry an additional six 
before year's end. 28 "If you have no accuser," he told the Saints in November 1841 in words 
that would be used to legitimize sexual adventurism. 

God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you will follow 
the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as 
my back load. If you will not accuse me, 1 will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of char¬ 
ity over my sins, 1 will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins. What many people 
call sin is not sin; I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down. 29 


28 Sec Compton, 4-6. 

29 Smith, History of the Church, 4:445. 



“Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 65 


Five weeks later, he added: “The reason we do not have the Secrets of the Lord revealed 
unto us is because we do not keep them but reveal them. We do not keep our own secrets but 
reveal our difficulties to the world even to our enemies. Then how would we keep the secrets of 
the Lord? Joseph Says I can keep a secret till dooms day." 30 The following March, while sur¬ 
veying his own moral frontiers. Smith published his revision of Abraham's journey with his 
wife, Sarai, into Egypt (LDS Book of Abraham 2:21-25; cf. Genesis 12:10—20). 31 As literary 
critic Susan Staker points out. Smith's version shifted the responsibility for Abraham’s lying 
about his relationship with Sarai from himself to God, who was now quoted as saying: “Sarai, 
thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon.” Because of Smith’s relocating of the text’s moral 
voice, Staker continues, “guarding against the consequences of male desire becomes a matter of 
sacred secrecy, of lying for the Lord. ... In Smith’s revision the boundaries between heaven 
and earth blur as God implicates himself in the messiest of human affairs, secrets and lies in¬ 
volving male desire and transgressed marital taboos "'*’ 

The next month. Smith broached such a taboo when he propositioned the ninetecn-year- 
old daughter of one of his counselors in the First Presidency. She demuned, and after a few 
days Smith sent her a letter he hoped would change her mind. "That which is wrong under one 
circumstance," he argued, "may be and often is, right under another. ... Everything that God 
gives us is lawful and right; and it is proper that we should enjoy His gifts and blessings ... 

Blessings offered, but rejected, arc no longer blessings-Our Heavenly Father is more liberal 

in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than wc are ready to believe or re¬ 
ceive."" She was not swayed, told others of the prophet’s overtures, slanders followed, and 
relations between the two families soured.' 4 

John C. Bennett, the prophet's talented, egotistical ally, had lodged with the Smiths from 
September 1840 to July 1841." In fact, the thirty-seven-year-old Bennett had been privy to 
Smith’s April 1841 plural marriage and was conversant with his controversial teachings. Con¬ 
sequently, he believed he too was authorized, whether or not Smith conveyed such an impres¬ 
sion, to initiate himself and others into the prophet's new- order. Smith worried that the enthusi¬ 
asm with which Bennett embraced the celestial doctrine, and especially his introduction of it to 
others without Smith’s permission, failed to emphasize sufficiently the religious aspects of his 
revelation and thus exposed the church to the condemnation of nonbelievers. (Smith required a 
marriage/sealing ceremony be performed with his permission by an authorized priesthood 
holder prior to sexual contact; Bennett believed that worthy couples, married or not, could 


30 Ibid., 479. 

11 See “The Book of Abraham." Tunes and Seasons 3(15 March 1842): 719. 

32 Susan Staker, “’The Lord Said, Thy Wife Is a Very Fair Woman to Look Upon': The 
Book of Abraham, Secrets, and Lying for the Lord,” in The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays 
on Joseph Smith, Bryan Waterman, editor (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 296. 

33 Quoted in Dean C. Jessce. editor, Persona! Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition (Salt 
Lake City: Deseret Book CoTProvo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 538-539. 

,4 For an account of this episode, see Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon . A Portrait of 
Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books. 1994), 294-302. 

" For more on Bennett, see my “John C. Bennett, Joseph Smith, and the Beginnings of 
Mormon Plural Marriage in Nauvoo Journal of Mormon History (forthcoming). 




66 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 

engage freely in sexual activity provided they keep their conduct a secret.) By the spring of 
1842, Bennett's sexual escapades had made him a liability, especially when rumor connected 
his and the prophet's names. "‘We have been informed,” Smith and other ranking church leaders 
(including some already officially introduced to the prophet’s teachings) wrote to the Relief 
Society in late March, 

that some unprincipled men, whose names we will not mention at present, have been guilty of 
such crimes [i.c., debauching the innocent)— We do not mention their names, not knowing but 
what there may be some among you who are not sufficiently skill’d in Masonry as to keep a se¬ 
cret, therefore, suffice it to say, there are those, and we therefore warn you, & forewarn you, in 
the name of the Lord, to check & destroy any faith that any innocent person may have in any 
such character, for we do not want any one to believe any thing as coming from us contrary to 
the old established morals & virtues & scriptural laws, regulating the habits, customs & conduct 
of society; and all persons pretending to be authorized by us or having any permit, or sanction 
from us, are & will be liars & base impostors, & you are authoriz'd on the very first intimation 
of the kind, to denounce them as such, & shun them as the flying fiery serpent, whether they arc 
prophets. Seers, or revelators: Patriarchs, twelve Apostles, Elders, Pncsts, Mayors, Generals, 

City Councillors, Aldermen. Marshalls, Police, Lord Mayors or the Devil, are alike culpable & 
shall be damned for such evil practices; and if you yourselves adhere to anything of the kind, 
you also shall be damned.* 

Less than two weeks later, Smith angrily "pronounced a curse upon all adulterers, and for¬ 
nicators, and unvirtuous persons, and those who have made use of my name to cany on their 
iniquitous designs."’ ; By the end of the month, as word broke of his attempted liaison—which 
he denied—with his counselor’s daughter, Smith complained of a "conspiracy against the peace 
of my household was made manifest, and it gave me some trouble to counteract the design of 
certain base individuals, and restore peace. The Lord makes manifest to me many things, which 
it is not wisdom for me to make public, until others can witness ti>e proof of them."’ 8 When 
Smith shortly afterward threatened to publicize Bennett’s libertinism, Bennett first signed into 
law (at Smith’s request and with the city council’s approval) a law banning brothels and "adul¬ 
tery, or fornication,’ 49 then resigned as mayor, withdrew (or was expelled, accounts vary) from 

56 Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Hynim Smith, Willard Richards, Hcbcr C. Kimball, and 
Vinson Knight to the Relief Society, ca. 30 March 1842, in Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, 20 
March 1842, typescript in my possession, original in LDS Archives. 

’ 7 Smith, History of the Church. 4:587. 

18 Ibid., 607-608; Dean C. lessee, editor The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume 2: Journal. 
1832-1842 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992), 379. 

’ 9 The law, as published in the 14 May 1842 edition of The Wasp, reads: 

[Ajll brothels or houses of ill feme, erected or being in the city of Nauvoo, be and the same hereby 
are henceforth prohibited and by law declared public nuisances and that the owners or keepers of 
such hosues, be fined in a sum of not less than fire hundred nor more than fifty thousand dollars & 
imprisoned for, six months for each oflense of one day's continuance of such establishment and 
that any person frequenting such establishment, (except on lawful business) shall be fined in the 
sum of five hundred dollars, and six month's imprisonment for each offense; and further, that for 
every act of adultery, or fornication, which can be proved, the parties shall be imprisoned six 
months, and fined, cadi, in the sum of from fire hundred to fifty thousand dollars, and that the 
individual's own acknowledgement shall be considered sufficient evidence in the case. 




“Illicit Intercourse” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 67 


the church, and left town by the end of June. 40 Shortly afterward, he began publicly exposing 
Smith’s own secrets, including his letter to his counselor’s daughter. 41 It was against this back¬ 
drop of clandestine plural marriages that the Nauvoo High Council convened in mid-May 1842. 

Chauncey Higbce, second-bom son of longtime church stalwart (and occasional high 
councilor) Elias Higbee, had along with several others fallen under Bennett's intoxicating spell, 
and on 20 May 1842 Nauvoo’s forty-seven-year-old presiding bishop George Miller, who had 
been investigating Bennett's shady past and had uncovered evidence of an active sexual under¬ 
ground, charged Higbee with "unchaste and unvirtuous conduct with the widow Miller and 
others." 42 Higbee must have sensed something was amiss—only days earlier, at the prompting 
of church officials, he had sworn that "he never knew said (Joseph] Smith to countenance any 
improper conduct whatever, either in public or in private, and that he never did teach me in 
private or public that an illicit intercourse with females w-as under any circumstances justifiable 
and that he never knew him so to teach others." 4 ' Even so, he does not seem to have fully 
appreciated the nature of the charges against him (especially since he had been acting in concert 
with Smith’s own brother William) and, when brought before the high council, asked for more 
time to prepare a response. The council, unaware of Smith's plural marriage activities but eager 
to stamp out licentiousness, disagreed and immediately called three young women who "testi¬ 
fied that [Higbee] had seduced them and at different times been guilty of unchaste and unvirtu¬ 
ous conduct with them and taught the doctnne that it was right to have free intercourse with 
women if it was kept secret &c and also taught that Joseph Smith authorized him to practise 
these things &c." Higbee’s defense, if he presented—or was allowed to present—one, is not 
available. But he seems not to have sought forgiveness, for Hynon Smith, the church’s presid¬ 
ing patriarch who would not learn of his younger brother’s doctrine until May 1843, moved to 
make a public example of the young rebel by ousting him from the church and announcing the 
action in the Times and Seasons (the church's official semi-monthly periodical). 44 (To counter 
rumors of complicity, Joseph Smith also sued Higbee for slander and defamation. 4 * Higbee’s 


40 See Smith, Saintly Scoundrel. 78-91. 

Bennett first published a scries of exposures in the nearby Sangamon Journal, then 
reissued them that fall in an expanded form in his The History of the Saints: or. An Expose ofJoe 
Smith and Mormonism (Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842). 

4 ' Nauvoo High Council Minutes. 20 May 1842. Joseph Smith's diary reports that the council 
met on 21 May 1842 (sec Jessee. Papers of Joseph Smith. 386). Also see the brief discussion in 
Bachman, 226-227. Miller, whom Joseph Smith would subsequently fully instruct in his doctrine 
of plural marriage, did not take his first celestial wives until after Smith’s death. He w-as 
excommunicated in 1848 for insubordination and died in 1856. 

43 Chauncey L Higbee, Affidavit, 17 May 1842, printed in Affidavits and Certificates 
Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in Jolui C. Bennett 's Letters (Nauvoo, 31 
August 1842). 

44 It is not clear if Higbee was expelled on the 21 st, as the minutes suggest, or on the 24th, as 
Smith, History of the Church, 5:18, says. 

45 See the documents reprinted in Richard Price and Pamela Price. Joseph Smith Fought 
Polygamy. Volume l (Independence, Missouri: Price Publishing Co., 2000), 146-155. The Prices 
reject the possibility that Joseph Smith taught and practiced plural marriage. 



68 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


response was lo call as witnesses the same women who had testified against him but who he 
believed could sustain his allegations against Smith. 46 Smith subsequently withdrew- the risky 
civil action, and Higbee mellowed somewhat until 1844 when he enlisted that June with other 
dissidents to publish the Nauvoo Expositor, an event that ultimately precipitated Joseph’s and 
Hyrum’s violent deaths in Carthage Jail. 4 ) 

Scandalized by the revelations of Higbee’s accusers, the high council, joined by other 
(unidentified) church officials, met again on 24 May to affirm and take additional testimony 
from “Mrs Sarah Miller and Miss Margaret and Matilda Neymans .. . relative to the charge 
against Chancy Higbee and others showing the manner of iniquity practised by them upon 
female virtue & the unhallowed means by which they accomplished their desires.” 48 According 
to their statements as edited and published by the church in 1844, all three women—sisters 
Margaret J. and Matilda J. Nyman (in their mid-twenties) and Sarah Miller (n£e Searcy) (age 
twenty-seven)—as well as a fourth—Catherine Warren (previously Fuller) (age twenty-two)— 
testified that Higbee had not only seduced them but had justified his actions in the name of 
Joseph Smith. In her published testimony, Margaret Nyman reported: 

Some time during ihe month of March last, Chaunccy L Higbee, came to my mother’s house, 
early one evening, and proposed a walk to a spelling school. My sister Matilda, and myself ac- 
compnaied him; but, changing our design on the way. we stopped at Mrs. Fuller's: During the 
evening's interview, he, (as I have since learned,) with wicked lies proposed that I should yield 
to his desires, and indulge in sexual intercourse with him, stating that such intercourse might be 
freely indulged in, and was no sm: That any respectable female might indulge in sexual inter¬ 
course, and there was no sin in it, providing ihe person so indulging, keep the same to herself; 
for there could be no sin where there w-as no accussor,—and most clandestinely, with wicked 
lies, persuaded me to yeild by using the name of Joseph Smith; and, as I have since learned, to¬ 
tally false and unauthonsed, and in conseuqncce of those arguments. I was influenced to yield 
to my Seducer, Chaunccy L Higbee. 

I further state that I have no personal acquaintance with Joseph Smith, and never heard 
him teach such doctrines, as stated by Chaunccy L Higbee, cither directly or indirectly. I heart¬ 
ily repent before God. asking the forgiveness of my brethren. 46 
Matilda Nyman testified: 

During this spring Chaunccy L Higbee, kept company with me from time to time, and, as I 
have since learned, wickedly, deceitfully, and with lies in his mouth, urged me vehemently to 
yield to his desires; that there could be no wrong in having sexual intercourse with any female 
that could keep the same to herself;—most villianously and lyingly stating that he had been so 
instructed by Joseph Smith, and that there was no sin where there was no accuser.—Also vow¬ 
ing he would many me. Not succeeding, he on one occasion, brought one, who affirmed that 

46 See ibid., 154-155. See also the affidavit Higbee secured from Melissa Schindle on 2 July 
1842, in Bennett, History of the Saints. 253-254. 

47 For more on Higbee, and especially his older brother, Francis M., see my “Buckeye's 
Laments: Two Early Insider Exposes of Mormon Polygamy and Their Authorship,” Journal of the 
Illinois State Historical Society (winter 2003):350-390. 

48 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 24 May 1842. 

49 “Testimony of Margaret J. Nyman v. Chaunccy L. Higbee, before the High Council of the 
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in the City of Nauvoo, May 21, 1842 ” statement 
signed 24 May 1842, printed in Nauvoo Neighbor (29 May 1844). 



“Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 69 


such intercourse was tolerated by the heads of the Church, 1 have since found him also to be a 
lying conspirator against female virtue and chastity, having never received such teachings from 
the heads of the church; but I was at the time partially influenced to believe, in consequence of 
the source from whom I received it. I yielded and became subject to the will of my seducer, 
Chauncey L Higbee: and having since found out to my satisfaction, that a number of wicked 
men have conspired to use the name of Joseph Smith, or the heads of The Church, falsely and 
w ickedly to enable them to gratify their lusts, thereby destroying female innocence and virtue, I 
repent before God and my brethren and ask forgiveness. 

I further testify that I hever had any personal acquaintance with Joseph Smith and never 
heard him teach such doctrines as Higbee. stated either directly or indirectly 50 
Sarah Miller affirmed: 

Some two or three weeks since, in consequence of brother Joseph Smith's teachings to the 
singers, I began to be alarmed concerning myself, and certain teachings which I had received 
from Chauncey L. Higbee, and questioned him (Higbee) about his teaching, for I was pretty 
well persuaded, from Joseph's public teachings, that Chauncey had been telling falsehoods; but 
Chauncey said that Joseph now taught as he did through necessity, on account of the prejudices 
of the people, and his own family particularly, as they had not become believers in the doctrine. 

I then became satisfied that all of Chauncey’s teachings had been false and that he had never 
been authorized by any one in authority to make any such communication to me. Chauncey L. 
I ligbee's teaching and conduct were as follows When he first came to my house soon after the 
special conference this spring, Chauncey commenced joking me about my getting mamed, and 
wanted to know how long it had been since my husband died, and soon removed his scat near 
me; and began his seducing insinuations by saying it was no harm to have sexual intercourse 
with women if they would keep it to themselves, and continued to urge me to yield to his de¬ 
sires. and urged me vehemently, and said he and Joseph were good friends, and he teaches me 
this doctrine, and allows me such privileges, and there is no harm in it. and Joseph Smith says 
so. I told him I did not believe it, and had heard no such teaching from Joseph, nor from the 
stand, but that it was wicked to commit adultery, &c. Chauncey said that did not mean single 
women, but mamed women, and continued to press his instructions and arguments until after 
dark, and until I was inclined to believe, for he called God to witness of the truth, and was so 
solemn and confident. I yielded to his temptations, having received the strongest assurance from 
him that Joseph approved it and would uphold me in it. He also told me that many others were 
following the same course of conduct. As I still had some doubts, near the close of our inter¬ 
view, I again suggested my fears that I had done wrong and should loose the confidence of the 
brethren, when he assured me that it was nght, and he would bring a witness' 1 to confirm what 
he had taught. When he come again. I still had doubts. I told him I understood he, (Higbee,) 
had recently been baptized, and that Joseph, when he confirmed him. told him to quit all his in¬ 
iquitous practices,—Chauncey said it was not for such things that he was baptized for, do you 
think that I would be baptized for such a thing and then go into it so soon again? Chauncey 
Higbee. said it would never be known. I told him it might be told in bringing forth. Chauncey 
said there was no danger, and that Dr. Ben net understood it, and would come and take it away, 
if there w as anything 


50 Matilda J. Nyman, testimony dated 21 May 1842, statement dated 24 May 1842. printed in 
Nauvoo Neighbor (29 May 1844). 

51 This was William Smith. 

5 ‘ Sarah Miller, statement dated 24 May 1842. reprinted in Nauvoo Neighbor (29 May 1844). 



70 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


Finally, Catherine Warren stated, in part, “I have had an unlawful connexion with Chauncey L. 
Higbee. Chauncey Higbee, taught the same doctrine as was taught by J. C. Bennet, and that 
Joseph Smith, taught and practiced those things, but he stated that he did not have it from Jo¬ 
seph, but he had his information from Dr. John C. Bennet. He, Chauncey L. Higbee, has gained 
his object about five or six times, 


food, if 1 would submit to his. 


Additionally, and this did not appear in print, the 


women implicated by name other young men, including Lyman O. Littlefield (twenty-two and 
married), Darwin Chase (twenty-six and single), and Joel S. Miles (twenty-five and single). 54 

First, the council wanted to rule on Bishop Miller’s charges against Catherine Warren 55 
“for unchaste and unvirtuous conduct with John C. Bennett and others." 56 Warren, who had 
remarried only one month earlier, 


53 "F.xtract from the testimony of Catherine Warren vs. Chauncey L. Higbee, before the High 
Council of the church. &c." dated 25 May 1842, reprinted in Nauvoo Neighbor (29 May 1844). 
(See also Willard Richards, Diary, 25 May 1844, LDS Archives: "copying affidavits &c for C. L. 
Higbee for the Neighbor ") All of these statements were subsequently published in the serialized 
“History of Joseph Smith" Deseret Ne^s (9 September 1857); Loner-day Saints' Millennial Star 
23 (12 October 1861): 657-658), but not in Smith, History of the Church. See also Robert D. 
I lutchins, “Joseph Smith III: Moderate Mormon," M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1977, 
33. The originals are housed in LDS Archives. Fuller also stated that William Smith attempted to 
seduce her, offering to bnng her food if she would not remarry 

54 Littlcficld had married Olive Andrews (bom 24 September 1818) on 16 March 1840. Also 
named, but never charged, was George Thatcher. As previously noted, John Bennett had resigned 
from the church on 17 May and left town the following month. William Smith remained behind, 
was never brought before the high council, and in late 1843 mamed two plural wives with his 
older brother’s permission. In 1845, following Joseph Smith’s death, he was excommunicated for 
insubordination. 

55 Bennett, whose mixture of fact and fantasy makes it difficult to know when he is telling the 
truth, later that same year characterized “the widow Fuller, now Mrs. Warren” as "a luscious 
woman, with a good head [phrenologically speaking], amativeness at eleven, the same size as 
Joe’s [i.e., Joseph Smith's],’’ and alleged that she “confessed to [intercourse with] forty men and 
beasts.” Quoted in “Anti-Mormon Lecture," New York Herald (4 September 1842): 2. Bennett 
would later describe her as: "not particularly attractive in person, though far from being ugly." 
History of the Saints. 253. The identities of these four women had not yet been publicized by the 
church; however, Bennett correctly named Warren, the Nyman sisters, and the "widow Miller” 
(whom he described in History of the Saints as "notorious ... a voluptuous woman, of ordinary 
capacity, black hair and eyes, round features, and free and lively disposition." 255-256.) 
According to records Bennett allegedly possessed, Margaret Nyman’s and Sarah Miller's 
testimony before the high council (date unspecified) read, in part: 

inqniqtnr —Margaret, the Lord has revealed that you have been guilty of illicit intercourse with 
men; confess, and your fault shall be forgiven; if not. God's curse will fall upon you. Macgam—I 
will confess, I am young and once was innocent, but • • • • • 

inq— who was the first man deprived you of your virtue? Mar.—Mr. W- Inq.—How 

came you to yield? Mai.— He said Joseph approved on it, and I yielded •••••• Inq—Any 

others? Mar—Yes Inq—Give the next name. Mar.—You must excuse me. Inq.—If you do not. 





“Illicit Intercourse” Plural Maniage. and the NauvooSlake High Council, 1840-1844 71 


confessed to the charge and give the names of several others who had been guilty of having 
unlawful intercourse with her stating that they taught the doctrine that it was nght to have free 
intercourse with women and that the heads of the Church also taught and practised it which 
things caused her to be led away thinking it to be right but becoming convinced that it was not 
nght and learning that the heads of the church did not believe nor practise such things she was 
willing to confess her sins and did repent before God for what she had done and desired ear¬ 
nestly that the Council would forgive her and covenanted that she would hence forth do so no 
more. 

Following her admissions, “she was restored to fellowship by the unanimous vote of the Coun¬ 
cil." 5 ' Warren remained in Nauvoo with her husband. William Warren, and on 29 January 1846 
was endowed in the Nauvoo temple. (The Nyman sisters were never formally brought up on 
charges before the council; Sarah Miller would be summoned again in early 1843.) 

Littlefield, Chase, and Miles—all apparently baffled by the attention—stood before the 
council two days later. Littlefield, a fledgling writer and poet. 5 " had three months earlier pro¬ 
voked a minor controversy when, working for the Times and Seasons, he had slipped the fol¬ 
lowing anonymous cheeky sentence into one of the paper's routine marriage announcements: 
“and when life wanes and they find a peaceful abode in the ’narrow house' [i.e., coffin], may 
the many plus and ins they have made, leave to the world an abundant posterity to celebrate 
their glorious example.” 59 Given the rumors of rampant lasciviousness, Littlefield’s double 


you will be cut off from the Church Mar—Mr B-lnq—Did he urge the same doctnnc? 

Mar.—No. lnq.—How did he accomplish his purpose 0 Mar—We just went at it and asked no 
questions, for Joseph had approved it. lnq.—Name him Mar.—It is not necessary. I am under a 
covenant, lnq.—You must answer. Joseph directed us to absolve all covenants. Mar. —I would 
rather defer it until I can consult the person lnq—Joseph knows all about it, it has been revealed to 
him by God, and if you do not reveal it, the cusc will fall on you, you must tell. Mar—It was 
Joseph. Inq.—Stand aside, you need not tdl that 

Ihc widow' Miller, amativcness large (Here followed her examination before the inquisition, 
similar to the above. She also, was absolved from the covenant, and mentioned the name of Joseph, 

Ihc Inquisitor said "Stop.—Joseph is pure and free from sin " "I know." said the widow. "Joseph 
is pure and free from sin. and only docs it to show he is a man as well as a prophet, and to try the 
faith of the saints.")... 

Bennett did not include this exchange in his History of the Saints, but did print an affidavit 
reporting a sexual encounter between Smith and Catherine Fuller (253-254). None of the relevant 
contemporary documents housed in LDS Archives corroborates any of these assertions regarding 
Smith. 

56 Nauvoo High Council Minutes. 25 May 1842. 

ft • » 


58 


See his articles ui Times and Seasons 2 (16 August 1841): 514-515; 2 (15 September 
184 H: 545-547; 2(1 October 1841): 565-566; and 3 (15 November 1841): 586-587. 

59 "Mamed," Times and Seasons 3(15 February 1842): 701. Either shortly before or after the 
appearance of Littlefield’s notice. Smith filed charges of slander against the young printer’s 
apprentice "and obtained a judgment of $500 bonds to keep the peace” (Smith. History of the 
Church. 4:514-515). It is not clear if Smith was responding to the published notice or to rumors 
that may have connected his and Littlefield's names. 



72 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


entendre could not have been more ill-timed. Joseph Smith’s critics jumped on the titillating 
notice, and the Times and Seasons's past editor quickly apologized for the gaffe, stressing: 
“from an intimate acquaintance of near seven years with Pres’t Joseph Smith, I never yet have 
seen a single indencent or unbecoming word or sentence, from his pen, but to the reverse.” 60 
Littlefield too clarified: “I hope the editor of the (WarsawJ Signal [i.e., a neighboring newspa¬ 
per critical of the Mormons) will do you [Joseph Smith) the justice to exculpate you from the 
wholesale charges which I have been, in some degree, the means of calling upon your head; 
and, if he must blame any person for the notice, let his anathemas, like an avalanche, flow upon 
me—I will bear the burthen of my own foibles." 61 

All three defendants denied Bishop Miller’s accusations of “improper and unviituous con¬ 
duct and .., teaching false doctrine " (The latter charge related to using Smith’s name in gain¬ 
ing access to women.) “I was taught that doctrine or principle [of plural marriage),” Littlefield 
years later testified, “the doctrine was talked of between myself and a great many other parties, 
and always with the understanding that it had its origin with Joseph Smith the Prophet, him¬ 
self." 62 Despite their protestations, Littlefield and Miles were found guilty; Chase complained 
about the “want of evidence" and was granted a delay of one day. Both Littlefield and Miles 
were “disfello[w)shipcd" until they could make sufficient "satisfaction to this Council.” 61 When 
the council reconvened the next day, they determined that Chase’s guilt could not be proven. 
“The President”—either Joseph Smith, Hymrn Smith, or William Marks—then “decided that 
he [Chase) should be restored to full fellowship." According to the minutes, eight councilors 
agreed, but four wanted first to hear additional arguments for acquittal and to explain why they 
"did not acecde to the Presidents decisions," after which the president “again called on the 
council to sanction his decision which was done unanimously." 64 Though not a high councilor, 
Apostle Wilford Woodruff attended the proceedings. “The first Presidency & The High Coun¬ 
cil & virtuous part of the Church," he recorded, 

arc making an exhertion abo{u)t these days to dense the Church from Adulterers fornicators & 
evil persons for their are such persons crept into our midst The high council have held a num¬ 
ber of meeting of late & their researches have disclosed much iniquity & a number been Cut off 
from the church. I met with the High Council to day on the tnal of L O. Littlefield Joel S Miles 
& Darwin Chase. The two former were cut of for Adultery & the case of D Chase was put of till 
tomorrow. 

28th The case of D. Chase was tryed & he restored to fellowship by the majority of 
own[ly?l I vote.* 5 


60 E[benezer). Robinson, "To the Public." Times and Seasons 3(16 March 1842): 729. 

61 Lfyman). O. Littlefield to “President Joseph Smith," in ibid 

62 Lyman O. Littlefield, Testimony, in “Respondent’s Testimony, Temple Lot Case," 149, 
LDS Archives. 

55 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 27 May 1842. 

64 Ibid., 28 May 1844. Some of the quoted material is crossed out in the original. 

65 Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, Scott G. Kenney, editor, nine volumes 
(Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-1985), 2:177. Woodruffs account of Chase's trial, which 
he may not have attended but relied on the reports of others, differs from that contained in the high 
council’s official minutes. Perhaps Woodruff records only the first vote, not the final. 




“Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 73 


Though clearly angered by the proceedings, Littlefield and Miles subsequently returned to 
full fellowship. “It is well known to yourself as to me,” Littlefield wrote to Joseph Smith in 
early 1844, 

that there has a difference existed between us for sometime At least, I have had good reasons to 
believe that your feelings were somewhat insenced at me. My object in penning this letter is to 
have the matter honorably and amicably adjusted ... I take this course because I hav e le a rned 
that to Joseph Smith have been committed the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven which are not to 
be taken away in this world or in the world to come Then there is no sacrifice too great for me 

to lay at your feet. All I possess, all I am. all I expect to be, is dedicated to the cause of God_ 

My errors have principally been errors of the head and not of the heart I have, at times, been 
very weak in the faith, but I thank my God that I have never lifted my voice or pen in denuncia¬ 
tions of Mormonism ... I close by saying it is human to err. but magnanimous to forgive 66 
Littlefield subsequently divorced, remarried, migrated to the Rocky Mountains, wrote against 
John C. Bennett (without noting his own connection) in 1888, 67 and died in Utah in 1893; 68 
Miles testified against one of the prophet’s critics in 1844 69 Chase remained in Nauvoo, was 
endowed in the Nauvoo temple in 1846, but later left the church, moved to California, and died 
during the Battle of Bear River in 1863. u 


Lyman O. Littlefield to Joseph Smith. 10 February 1844, Joseph Smith Collection, LDS 
Archives. 

See Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints (Logan, Utah: The Utah 
Journal Co . Printers, 1888), 157-159. 

M See Susan Easton Black, Membership of the Church ofJesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 
1830-1848 . fifty volumes (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 
1984-88), s.v. “Littlefield, Lyman Omer." Littlefield mamed Adeline Amarilla Hamblin (bom 18 
September 1823) in the Nauvoo temple on 31 January 1846 (subsequently divorced), and later 
Louisa Young (bom I May 1822) on 1 January 1851. Littlefield’s first wife, Olive Andrews, 
mamed Joseph Smith (by proxy) for eternity and Bngham Young for time on 15 January 1846; 
apparently, she later mamed Onra Metcalf Lisk. circa 1852, in New Orleans. Iouisiana. 

69 See "Joel S. Miles, swore,’’ Times and Seasons 5(15 May 1844): 540. Perhaps as 
fallout from Miles's case, his younger brother, Ira S. Miles (age twenty-three), two weeks 
later brought before the high council a complaint against Amanda Smith for “unchristian- 
like conduct. In stating that my wife, Mary K. Miles, has had too frequent intercourse 
with Joseph McCall, at my house, at different times and other places thereby insinuating 
that she (that is my wife) is guilty of adultery with said Joseph McCall.” Smith was found 
guilty of not taking her concerns first to the Mileses. She apologized and was allowed to 
retain her membership in the church. (See Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 10 June 1842.) 
Although it is not known if Smith was a member of Nauvoo's Relief Society at this time, 
the society’s president, Emma Smith, had less than two months earlier instructed her 
colleagues: “the disagreeable busines of searching out those that were iniquitous, seem'd 
to fall on her—said it was an unpleasant task, but her desire was to do good—wish’d all 
the members of the Society to assist her—said it was necessary [to] begin at home.” 
(Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, 14 April 1842). 

70 See Black, s.v. "Chase. Darwin J”; Woodmff, 6:96. 




74 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 

Also called before the high council on 28 May 1842 was Justus Morse (age thirty-three). 
Charged with “unchaste and unvirtuous conduct with the daughter of the Widow Neyman &c. 
&c.,” Morse declined to attend and instead asked that “his name be struck off of the Church 
Books as he did not wish to stand a trial.” Married since 1832 to Elizabeth Towne and the 
father of as many as six children, Morse had also apparently succumbed to Bennett’s wiles and 
did not want to encourage an airing of his case. The council may have considered allowing him 
to withdraw, but evidently concluded not to set a precedent, declared him guilty, and ordered 
“he (the defendant) be disfellowshiped,” presumably in absentia. 71 Morse also eventually re¬ 
turned to fellowship, was called in April 1844 on a mission to campaign for Joseph Smith’s bid 
for the U.S. presidency, 2 was endowed and sealed in the Nauvoo temple in January 1846, 
traveled to Utah and later to California, joined the rival Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of 
Latter Day Saints (now Community of Chnst), and died in Ohio in 1887. 7J 

Shock waves from Higbee's trial and especially Bennett’s sensational public attacks rever¬ 
berated throughout the summer. Despite the ongoing controversies. Smith mamed in late July 
his first teenaged bride, Sarah Ann Whitney, with her parents’ permission but without Emma’s 
knowledge. Three weeks later, he wrote to his celestial in-laws: 

all three of you can come and See me in the fore pan of the night... I have a room intirely by 
myself.... I know it is the will of God that you should comfort me now in this time of affliction 
... the only thing to be careful of. is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but 
when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty .. bum this lener as soon as you read it; 


71 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 28 May 1842. 

72 See Smith, History of the Church, 6:337. 

73 See Black, s.v. “Morse, Justice (Justus).’’ Seven months before his death at age seventy- 
eight, Morse swore to an affidavit detailing, in part, his exposure to “the doctrine of sealing, or 
marrying for eternity, called spiritual wifery.” Morse alleged that he had been introduced to the 
celestial teaching in 1842 by Amasa Lyman, and that a year later “my own wife and another 
woman were sealed to me for eternity in Macedonia, by father John Smith, uncle to the Prophet 
This woman was the wife of another man, but was to be mine in eternity and die said father John 
Smith, also taught me that if an unmarried woman was scaled to me that she was mine for time as 
well as eternity and that I was not limited as to number." He also asserted that "In the years 1843 
and 4, Elder Amasa Lyman and father John Smith again taught me the doctnne of spiritual wifery 
or polygamy, and in the years 1845 and 6, Bngham Young and Heber C. Kimball taught me the 
doctrine also.” Affidavit, dated 23 March 1887, reported in Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of 
Mormon Polygamy (Mendota, Illinois: The W.A.C.P. Ass’n, n.d.), 175-179. However, John 
Smith did not take his first plural wife until August 1843, and Lyman not until September 1844. 
Furthermore, John Smith did perform some eternal mamage ceremonies, but apparently not until 
after Joseph Smith’s death in June 1844. More than likely, Morse confused the details of his 
experiences with Bennett, Lyman, and John Smith. He may have married polygamously after 
Joseph Smith’s death, but probably not until 1846. Although his conclusions about Morse’s pre- 
1844 plural marriages are debatable, Michael S. Riggs’s “ ‘His Word Was as Good as His Note’: 
The Impart of Justus Morse’s Mormonism(s) on His Families," John Whitmer Historical 
Association Journal 17 (1997): 49-80, is an informative treatment of Morse. 



“Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 75 


keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it ... I think Emma wont come to¬ 
night if she dont fail to come to night. 74 

Also by this time. Smith had instructed his close friend Heber C. Kimball (as well as Vin¬ 
son Knight. Brigham Young, and perhaps Reynolds Cahoon, who had all married plurally with 
Smith's permission) to take a new wife without first informing his legal wife. 7S On the other 
hand. Apostle Orson Pratt refused in late July to publicly endorse the prophet’s good character, 
convinced he had tned to seduce his wife, and as a result was suspended the next month from 
the Quorum of the Twelve. A defiant-sound mg Smith, in hiding to avoid arTest for the at¬ 
tempted assassination of a former Missouri governor, proclaimed shortly afterward: 

Ofrson). P(ratt) and others of the same class caused trouble by telling stones to people who 
would betray me and they must believe these stones because his wife told him so! I will live to 
trample on their ashes with the soles of my feet. I prophecy in the name of Jesus Chnst that such 

shall not prosper, they shall be cut down in their own plans-I can kick them off my heels, as 

many as you can name, I know what will become of them '’ 

The prophet’s bravado helped to kindle a new round of inquiries, and five days later, on 3 
September 1842, the high council debated charges against Gustavus Hills. Hills, age thirty- 
eight, was a poet and musician, who served as a church clerk, directed Nauvoo’s “Musical 
Lyceum," and worked for a time as assistant editor of the Times and Seasons. He had married 
Elizabeth Ann Mansfield in 1827, was the father of six children, and had joined the LDS 
Church in late 1840. 71 As both a professor of music at the University of Nauvoo and an assis¬ 
tant justice of the Municipal Court, he had become acquainted with the ubiquitous John C. 
Bennett (chancellor and mayor). Hills’s adoption of Bennett’s views on spiritual wifery led to 
his being accused of “illicit intercourse with a certain woman by the name of Mary Clift by 
which she is with child and for teaching the said Mary Clift that the heads of the Church prac- 


4 Quoted in Compton, 346-349. “Of course these things had to be kept an inviolate secret," 
wTotc the mother of Smith’s new wife; "and as some were false to their vows and pledges, 
persecution arose, and caused grievous sorrow to those who had obeyed, in all purity and sincerity, 
the requirements of the celestial order of marriage.’’ Elizabeth Ann Whitney, “Reminiscences." in 
Carol Cornwall Madsen, editor In Their Owv Words: Women and the Story of Nau\oo (Salt Lake 
City: Deseret Book Co., 1994), 202. 

75 For the dates of their marriages, see George D. Smith, “Nauvoo Roots of Mormon 
Polygamy, 1841-1846. A Preliminary Demographic Report." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon 
Thought 27 (spring 1994): 37-72. For an example of the prophet's instruction to wed without first 
informing one’s legal wife, see the experience of Heber C. Kimball, in Stanley B. Kimball, Heber 
C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer ( Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 94-95. 

76 See Gary James Bergera. “Seniority in the Twelve. The 1875 Realignment of Orson Pratt," 
Journal of Mormon History 18 (spring 1992): 23-37. Pratt was restored to his office and standing 
in January 1843. 

' Quoted in Jessee. Papers of Joseph Smith. 446-447. 

* See G(ustavus). Hills, “Prosperity of Zion," Times and Seasons 2 (15 April 1841): 389; 
“Choir of the Stake of Zion in the City of Nauvoo," Times and Seasons 3 (1 January 1842): 653; 
Gustavus Hills, “Salutory," and "University of Nauvoo. Musicial Lyceum," Times and Seasons 3 
(15 Januaiy 1842): 663, 666; Black, s.v. “Hills. Gustavus": and Michael Hicks, Mormonism and 
Music: A History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 41-42. 



76 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


tised such conduct & that the time would come when men would have more wives than one 
&C.” 79 Hills and Clift had apparently met late the previous year when both were members of 
Nauvoo’s choir. By September 1842, Clift, age twenty-seven, was eight months pregnant, and 
her obvious condition no doubt prompted some attention. 

Clift was not present when the high council convened on 3 September but had given a 
deposition on 29 August regarding her situation. The council decided it needed additional 
information and asked for a second affidavit. 80 When councilors reassembled the next day, both 
of Clift’s statements were read aloud. According to her first affidavit, Clift, “an unmarried 
woman,” 

was pregnant with a child which, if bom alive, may be a bastard and that Gustavus Hills was the 
father of such child. The said Gustavus Hills about 4 or 5 weeks since requested deponent to 
remove to Columbus (Adams county) until after her confinement and he would assist her with 
support as far as his means would permit; and that such illicit conduct was practiced by the 
heads of the Church and that the time would come when men would have more wives than one, 
and he wished that time would come. 11 

In the second, she reported that Hills had told her “he was intimate with another woman in 
town besides his wife & that the authorities of the church countenanced and practiced illicit 
connexion with women & said there was no harm in such things provided they kept it secret." 
Hills reportedly suggested she chemically induce an abortion but, following her refusal, told her 
to leave Nauvoo until after the baby's birth. 82 

The high council called addinonal witnesses. Esther Smith 

gave evidence that defendant told her it was lawful for people to hold illicit intercourse if they 
only held their peace & that the ti me wo u ld it was agreeable to the practice of some of the lead¬ 
ing men or heads of the Church It took place the thursday before the Choir was dismissed in 
the upper part of Town near the Bluff at 9 O'clock in the evening, she was going home—he of¬ 
fered & went to accompany her and this look place upon the way, she further testified that Mary 
Clift joined the Choir at Br Joseph Smiths. 

Hills then produced witnesses in his defense, hoping to show- that he had been deceived, but 
“none gave any evidence that he was inocent." Councilors debated the evidence, apparently 
decided that Hills had been duped but still required punishment, and concluded to disfcllowship 
him. 81 Less than two weeks later, Nauvoo’s municipal court, acting on a complaint from Clift’s 
father, mlcd that Hills had, in fact, fathered Clift's unborn child. Hills agreed to pay Clift $200 
plus $20 a year for three years if the child survived birth. 84 Clift’s son, whom she named Jason, 


79 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 3 September 1842. Also see the brief discussion in 
Bachman, 227. 

80 Ibid. 

81 Mary Clift, Affidavit, 29 August 1842, in Journal History, under date. 

82 Mary Clift, Affidavit, 4 September 1842, quoted in Bachman, 227. 

85 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 4 September 1842. 

84 The details of this episode were first published in Hicks, 41-42. The agreement Hills 
signed on 15 September 1842 is housed in Newell K. Whitney Papers, L. Tom Perry Special 
Collections, Harold B. Lee Library. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, and reads. 

Know all men by these presents thar I Gustavus Hills of the county of Hancock and state of Illinois 
am held and firmly bound unto May Clift of the county and state aforesaid in the penal sum of 




“Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 77 


was bom the next month but died the following year in late October 1843. Hills was implicated 
in another case brought before the high council (see below), but was soon restored to fellow¬ 
ship, continued to serve on the municipal court, and in early October 1843 w-as clerk of a spe¬ 
cial churchwide conference. He was endowed in the Nauvoo temple ui late December 1845 and 
was sealed to his wife, Elizabeth, in 1846 but died of “congestive fever” later that year. 95 Clift 
married Theordore Turley, with w hom she had immigrated to the United States three and a half 
years earlier, as a plural wife in early 1844 and traveled with him to Utah. 90 (Members of 
Turley’s family subsequently antedated the date of the couple’s plural marriage to late 
1841/early 1842 to provide Jason with legitimate parentage.) 8 

While no new allegations of sexual misconduct were presented to the high council during 
the remainder of the year, this was due not to a dearth of misbehavior, but to the tune needed to 
investigate such charges. For the last two Saturdays—the 21st and 28th—of January 1843 
witnessed a flurry of sexually based accusations. 9 First, however, the council discussed a 
question that had haunted more than a few of Mormonism’s converts: Can a husband or wife, 
separated for whatever reason from his or her spouse, remarry without fust securing a divorce? 
Henry H. Wilson |agc thirty-three] appeared before the Council and desired to know, whether, 
in his present condition, it would be wisdom, and also if it would be justifiable by the law's of 
God and man. for him to unite himself in matrimony, or not. as he had a living wife. 

It appeared from evidence adduced that his wife was a very contentious, disobedent and 
ungovernable woman and that she would not submit to good order, or abide his council and al- 


Two hundred Dollars, which payment will and truly to be made I bind myself, my heirs and legal 
representatives firmly by these bonds sealed with my own seal and dated this 15th day of 
September in the year of our Lord One thousand Eight hundred and forty two. 

"The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas the said Mary Gift hath made oath 
that she is pregnant with a child by the said Gustavus Hills and has agreed with the said Gustavus 
to submit the matter of the support of the same to referees, now if the said child shall be bom alive 
the said Gustavus Hills agrees to pay the said Mary Gift Twenty Dollars annually for Three years 
in quarterly payments, in provisions or clothing suited to the condition of the said child, but should 

at any time, then the obligation to pay as aforesaid is to cease from the time of such decease or 
demand and if the said Gustavus Hills shall will and truly comply with the conditions of the above 

obligation to cease and be void And further at or before the delivery of said child the said Gustavus 
Hills shall pay five dollars in money and goods (?] for such an occasion besides the payments 
before mentioned This obligation being complied with as aforesaid then and in that case the 
obligation and everything therein contained is to cease, otherwise to remain in full force and effect. 

Given under my hand and seal the day and year above written 

95 See Journal History, 22 January 1847. 

96 Turley’s plural marriage to Clift probably occurred at around the same time he manied her 
sisters Eliza and Sarah Ellen Clift on 6 March and 26 April 1844. 

97 See Turley Family Book. 56. 

99 Of the cases discussed below, the following were fust briefly noted by name in Bachman. 
130-133: John Anms, John Blazzard, Henry Cook, Mary Hoag, Sarah Miller, Mrs. Pool. Mary 
Powell, John Thomas Prows, Janies Reed, John Wells Taylor, Charity Thorp, John Thorp, and 
Henry Wilson. 



78 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


together refused to live with and that they had been apart for the last five years and many other 
things which was unbecoming &c. 

After which it was decided by President Hynim Smith and William Marks, that if he feels 
himself justified and can sustain himself against the laws of the land, that he is clear as far as 
they were concerned ((ie) the jurisdiction of the High Council) and was at liberty to marry again 
on the aforesaid conditions. 89 

Additionally, the church strongly discouraged marriage outside the faith: “They, who 
marry out of the church, are considered weak in the faith... (and] must be considered as desir¬ 
ous to please themselves rather than God, entering into temptation voluntarily, which, in the 
end, will lead to the most lamentable consequences." 90 Such advice placed enormous pressure 
on converts whose spouses had not joined them in baptism to find new partners. These thorny 
issues had come up before, and councilors knew’ that by approving a form of common law 
divorce, they were also sanctioning a form of polygamy. The challenge was to make certain that 
a couple was irreconcilably incompatible—usually based on evidence of adultery, physical 
abuse, ct cetera—before permitting one spouse to seek another without the benefit of divorce. 
The high council would have an opportunity to put its ruling to test before day’s end. 

Councilors then moved on to what they assumed would be their first case—charges against 
Enoch King and Mary Ware Eggleston for “living in adultery; and unchristian-like conduct”— 
but because of a "want of proper evidence as neither party was ready for trial,’’ they decided 
instead to investigate Henry' Cook’s alleged "unchristianlike conduct, for selling your wife &c. 
&c." The thirty-nmc-ycar-old Cook vehemently denied selling his wife. Mary Hoag, whom he 
had married seven months earlier on 13 June 1842, insisting that a joke told at her expense had 
been misunderstood. According to the council minutes: 

(l]t appeared from evidence, that Cook had lost his wife [i.e.. Nancy Bingham, m. ca. 1828, d. 
ca. 1841 ] not long since and was left with three children and being in destitute circumstances, 
and not in a condition to keep house, thought that he had best get mamed again and advised 
with some of his fnends who also thought it best if he could get a suitable companion, not long 
afterwards, upon a short accquaintance, and the recommendation of some of his fnends he got 
mamed to Mary •••• not long after this he found that she was in the habit of traveling about at 


89 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 21 January 1843. Although his first wife is unidentified, 
Wilson married Frances Kelley three months later on 23 April 1843 (sec Black, s.v. “Wilson, 
Henry Hardy”). 

The high council had skirted the issue a year earlier when it oiled on Jesse Turpin’s case in 
April 1842. Turpin, age twenty-five, had mamed Eliza Ann Boggcss, age seventeen, on 24 
December 1840. Less than six months later, he had been disfellowshiped for allegedly marrying 
another man’s wife. He then appealed his punishment, arguing that "he had not been cut off legally 
... there being only one witness and his testimony circumstantial." The high council agreed that 
there “were no evidences given which would give any reason to believe that he had been guilty of 
the charge,” and ordered that he "be restored to his former fellowship & official standing in the 
Church.” Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 22 April 1842, and Bachman, 129-130; see also the 
notices regarding Turpin in Times and Seasons 2 (16 August 1841): 514, and 3 (2 May 1842): 
771. The Turpins subsequently bore six children, but divorced ca. 1855. Jesse died in 1854 in 
Kansas, Eliza in 1891 in Utah. See Black, s.v., “Turpin, Jesse," and "Boggess, Eliza Ann.” 

90 “On Marriage," Times and Seasons 2 (1 June 1841): 433. 



“Illicit Intercourse ,” Plural Marriage. and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 79 


night when there was no need of it &c. and that she was would shamefully misuse his children 
& set bad examples before them, use very indecent language to them &c also would abuse him 
& insult him without a cause and entirely refuse to be subject to him or be under his controll, 
boasting that she would be governed by no man and threaten to use violence on him and his 
children and that she would go off and say she would leave him, but come back again and many 
such like improprieties, and that he had use remonstrated against such proceedings with as 
much patience as could be expected under such circumstances and used every method to bring 
her to her duty that he thought would avail anything with her and afterwards that he had whiped 
her pretty scvcarly (which was his own testimony) thinking that might bring her to her duty; 
that he did not sell her but something had been said about it which was understood as a joke by 
himself and the witnesses but the party making the ofTer held it as a bargain & so did she. it also 
appeared that he had formerly been a civil upright man who desired to live in peace and good 
order, all of which was abundantly proven. 

Hyrum Smith, who joined the council as one of President Marks's advisors, “spoke at 
some length on the subject," delivered to Cook “a very appropriate and severe reprimand for 
us i ng the rod whipping his wife," but felt that "Cook had acted as well as could be expected 
under his circumstances.” Following Smith's lead, the council voted unanimously to acquit 
Cook of all charges*' (Cook subsequently named Lovina Thayes on 5 November 1843, was 
endowed with and sealed to his wife in the Nauvoo temple in late January 1846, and moved to 
Utah where he died in 1869.)** Mary Hoag, who shortly after leaving Cook had remarried, 
w ould be asked to account for her actions before the end of the month. (Cook had cither offered 
to sell Hoag for her weight in catfish to the man who then named her, or the nan offered to 
pay that amount for her, which Cook reportedly accepted. Either way, Cook insisted that such 
talk was strictly a joke.) 9 ' 

Next, the council ruled on charges against John Thorp and the “widow, Sarah Miller, said 
now to be the wife of John Thorp," for "living in adultery and unchristian* like conduct.” (Miller 
had appeared before the council the previous year to testify of her involvement with Chauncey 
Higbee and others.) The couple had wed on 6 December 1842, despite Thorp's being legally 
named. Thorp, who sensed that being separated from his fust wife did not permit his marrying 
a second one, elected not to attend the trial, worried that “he would be anested by the civil law 
and sent to the penetentiaiy for Bigamy," which the council took as evidence of guilt. On the 
other hand, Miller “plead ignorance saying she did not know but she had a right to many him 
that Thorp used many arguments to induce her to have him and finely convinced her that it was 
right." After “much was said on the subject,” the charges against both were "sustained in the 
fullest sense,” and the council unanimously voted to "cut (them] off from the church."* 4 (Coun¬ 
cilors may have felt that Miller had been sufficiently warned earlier not to entangle herself in 


’* Ibid. 

92 Black, s.v. “Cook, Henry Lyman." 

The incident took on a life of its own. and nearly forty-five years later, Wilhelm Wymetal, 
in Mormon Portraits (Salt Lake City: Salt Lake Tribune, 1886), commented: “(T]here was a great 
deal of swapping and exchanging done in Nauvoo as to wives. Old Cooks sold his wife for a load 
of catfish, and from that time on he was always called 'Catfish Cooks’" (68). 

94 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 21 January 1843. 



80 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


such affairs and consequently did not merit any mercy.) Thorp and Miller would soon separate, 
and Miller would remarry before the end of the year. 

The fourth case brought before the council, still on the 21st, concerned John C. Annis’s 
having performed Mary Hoag’s civil marriage to John Wells Taylor on 27 November 1842, 
while she was still legally wed to Henry Cook. Annis, age fifty-eight, “frankly confessed” to 
having performed the illegal marriage and “manifested a spirit of deep repentance and remorse 
for what he had done and was willing to make any satisfaction which would be required &c " 
Hyrum Smith “reprimanded Annis for what he had done, without understanding his duty &c,” 
but recommended, which the council approved, that he be acquitted. 95 (Annis was endowed in 
the Nauvoo temple in early 1846 and died three years later.) 96 

After several grueling hours, an exhausted council heard the last case of the day again in¬ 
volving charges of “the crime of adultery and other unchristian-like conduct” against John 
Thomas Prows (also Prouse) and his wife, Charity Arms Thorp. Prows, age fifty-one and re¬ 
cently widowed, had hired Thorp (soil legally married to John Thorp, whose case the council 
had just adjudicated) as a housekeeper and soon 

ascertained] that she had some difficulty with her husband and that they did not live together 
and that he did not provide for her as he should &c and that he became more & more attached 
to her the more he became a(c]quainted, and also his children became a cq uai nte d attached to 
her and did not want her to leave their house and often solicited him to marry her which at last 
he did. 

His reasons in justification of himself was that Thorp abused her and did not provide for 
her and because of the attachment of his children to her and more especially after Thorp got 
married to Sarah Miller &c all this was the statement of the parties and strengthened by other 
testimony. 

Prows and Thorp had married on 21 December 1842, believing that in view of the Thorps’ 
separation, they were free to solemnize their relationship. Hyrum Smith was obviously annoyed 
at both the Thorps and the Prowscs and "spoke at [length] upon the subject showing the iniquity 
of their conduct that they were living in adultery." He urged the council to disfellowship the 
Prowses, which they then voted unanimously to do. 97 (The Prowscs remained in Nauvoo, but 
apparently did not travel west with the body of the Saints in 1846. John Prows died in Kentucky 

in 1865.)" 

Reconvening the next week on 28 January, the council faced a similarly full docket First 
they ruled on William Wilsey’s having performed the illegal civil ceremony between John 
Thomas Prows and Charity Thorp. Wilsey, age forty-five, pleaded guilty and said he “was 
sorry." Following testimony in Wilsey’s behalf, Hyrum Smith conceded that he "had done 
wrong, But believed that he had through debility of body and mind done more than right but 
that he might be forgiven." William Marks added that all “Elders should be cautious & wise in 
future," and moved that Wilsey be acquitted, which the council approved 99 


95 Ibid. 

96 Black, s.v. “Annis, John C." 

97 Nauvoo High Council Minutes," 21 January 1843. 

98 Black, s.v. "Prows, John Thomas " 

99 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 28 January 1843. 




"Illicit Intercourse" Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 81 


Next, the council heard evidence of adultery from a string of witnesses against and for 
John Hop wood Blazzard (also Bleazard, Blezard, and Blazard) and a Mrs. Pool. According to 
Thomas Miller, "Mrs Pool had a husband in England Viz Mr Pool that he and she had difficul¬ 
ties, yet not very serious or very uncommon, not on account of any adultery—parties sepa¬ 
rated—not divorced.” Ann Booth then asserted that "Mr Pool wished to continue to live with 
(Mrs. Pool] " Mary Hardman countered that "Mr Pool did not like to live with his wife; loved 
and respected her and that she sought occasion to have him speak evil against her, to enable her 
to quit him, and that they paned with each other affectionately when she left England.” Elder D. 
Wilding said that "he never gave any advise for her to many, or to leave her husband, believes 
she had no right to marTy.” Blazzard, age thirty-four, then testified that he had sought Apostle 
Brigham Young's advice, that Young had replied he "would not give leave to marry , (and) if he 
married he must be for himself." Gustavus Hills, who by now had returned to full fellowship, 
reported that Blazzard had asked his opinion, that he had "answered it was wrong in the stat¬ 
ute,” but that Blazzard had encouraged him to seek Joseph Smith's counsel. Mrs. Pool had 
written a letter to the prophet, accusing her husband of "ill usage,” and explaining that he "was 
cross and used her roughly whenever she was m a fami ly pregnant he beat her. never beat her 
only when pregnant until they both joined the Church after which he was more cross but did not 
beat her" After reading the letter, Smith had "advised that Blazzard and Mrs Pool be married 
which ceremony Hills performed. Hymm Smith, increasingly sensitive to the rumors of polyg¬ 
amy in the church, disagreed with his brother, and instead urged the couple not to marry' “unless 
she was divorced from her husband, and would be wrong &c but gave it as his opinion that they 
now- live in adultery, that they can not be retained in fellowship." The council endorsed Hy- 
rum’s opinion and expelled the couple from the church. 100 (However, questions lingered, and 
when the council met the next week, new evidence was introduced accusing Mr. Pool of adul¬ 
tery, after which it was agreed that Blazzard and Mrs. Pool be readmitted "to fellowship by 
baptism ” 101 Blazzard and Pool's marriage soon failed, and Blazzard married Sarah Miller— 
who had left John Thomas Thorp—ten months later on 23 November 1843. The Blazzards 
remained in Nauvoo. migrated with the mam body of the church to Utah, where he died in 
1871. IW ) 

Immediately after its decision to excommunicate Blazzard and Pool on 28 January, the 
council took a short recess, after which it decided once again to postpone the case against 
Enoch King and Mary Ware Eggleston. They then moved to charges of "adultery by living 
together" leveled against James Reed and Mary Powell (ages unknown) by the man who had 
performed their civil mamage one month earlier, future LDS apostle Charles C. Rich. Reed, 
Powell, and two witnesses were present. Thomas Evins (or Ivins) reported that "Mrs Powell's 
husband lived in pursuit of illicit conduct with females, knew he tried to marry' another 
woman." Charlotte Arthur continued that "Mrs Powell's husband was of bad character, 3 years 
last June since he left Mrs Powell.” Reed added that he had understood "Mr Powell was about 
to get married," and Mrs. Powell explained that "Mr Powell was endeavouring to get married, 
[and] denied to have been married to Mrs Powell (so) she got a certificate of the marriage, (but) 

,0 ° Ib.d. 

101 Ibid., 4 February 1843. 

102 Black, s.v., "Bleazard, John Hopwood.” 



82 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


Powell refused to support her (Mrs Powell) and that he was living in adultery with another 
woman.” The council was persuaded by the evidence of a permanent rupture in the Powells’ 
marriage, acquitted Reed and Powell of all charges, and reaffirmed their fellowship in the 
church. 103 

For their final ruling of the day, councilors decided to tie up loose ends remaining in the 
case against “John Wells Taylor and Mary Cook, wife of Henry Cook, (alias the cat fish 
woman).” (Taylor apparently continued to insist that he had purchased his wife from Henry 
Cook.) It is not clear from the minutes if either defendant was present. But after reviewing the 
previous week’s minutes, councilors summarily expelled both from the church. 104 

When the council met two weeks later, on 11 February 1843, they resolved the much- 
delayed trial of Enoch King and Mary Ware Eggleston. (King, age twenty-one, had manied 
Eggleston [also Igguldin], age twenty-six, on 30 March 1841.) Eggleston had given birth only 
three weeks earlier to the couple’s first child. A convert from England, Eggleston had previ¬ 
ously married sometime before 1835 and borne two children (both of whom had died before 
the age of four). However, her husband had not joined her in immigrating to Nauvoo, and 
Eggleston found herself separated from him by her new- religion and in a position not unfamiliar 
to other converts. Though the council’s minutes of the case are brief, the couple presented a 
persuasive defense, and was “unanimously acquited by the Council in Council of the whole." 105 
King and Eggleston remained in Nauvoo, were endowed and sealed in the Nauvoo temple in 
late January 1846, migrated to Utah, raised eight children, and died in 1895 (King) and in 1911 
(Eggleston). 106 

The next three cases of alleged sexual misconduct—the last before Hyrum Smith read to 
the council his brother's revelation on plural marriage later that summer—were presented in 
March, April, and July. In the first. Job E. Green, age thirty, was charged with "unchristian-like 
conduct" for having “made an attemp(t) to go to bed (with) two young females and acted oth¬ 
erwise very imprudently at the time " Green, whose twenty-seven-year-old wife Floretta Pierce 
(m. 1835) had given birth to their fifth child two months earlier, pleaded not guilty. After the 
evidence was presented, the council concluded that since “there being but one witness which 
was went to establish the most important item," the charge was “not sustained" and Green was 
exonerated. 10 ' Less than a month later, the council ruled on the following charges against Jor¬ 
dan P. Hendrickson, age thirty-four. 

First, that he mamed a second woman when his first wife was living, from which he was not re¬ 
leased by the laws of God or of man consequently committed adultery. Second, that he told the 
second woman before he was mamed to her and also others that he had a bill of divorcement 
from his wife. Third, For abusing & neglicting her and not adirum[s]tenng to the wants of the 
second woman while she was on her death bead. Fourth For slandering the character & speak¬ 
ing evil of her since dead 

Hendrickson, married three weeks earlier to Frances Hymphrys (age unknown), pleaded not 
guilty. The minutes do not record what evidence was presented, but Hendrickson had probably 


ioj 

104 

105 

106 
107 


Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 28 January 1843. 

Ibid. 

Ibid., 11 February 1843. 

Black, s.v., “King. Enoch Marvin or Marion,” and “Ware, Maty Bigg.* 
Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 4 March 1843. 




‘•Illicit Intercourse,'’ Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 83 


left his first wife before her death to marry Humphrys. Stake president Marks felt that Hen¬ 
drickson had not “done what he had wilfully'* and should remain a member of the church. 
However, other councilors disagreed, and after a thorough airing of all sides, the council voted 
instead to expel Hendrickson from the church. 108 (He would be readmitted in October 1845 and 
endowed in the Nauvoo temple early the next year.) 109 Finally, in July, Elizabeth Rowe (age 
unknown) was accused of “unchristian-like conduct having been caught in bed with a man not 
her husband at two different times.” Rowe pleaded not guilty, but the “charge was sustained,” 
and the council ruled unanimously that “the hand of fellowship be withdrawn from her.” 

During these months of deliberations, Joseph Smith secretly married thirteen new wives, 
including two pairs of sisters," 1 while nine of his close male associates entered the celestial 
order for the first time. 112 (“It is your privilege to have all the wives you want,” Smith counseled 
a loyal disciple in Febmary-March 1843.)"’ Most significantly, Smith's first wife and older 
brother finally “received the doctrine of priesthood" (i.e., plural marriage)." 4 Hyrum’s conver¬ 
sion was total; Emma, though she participated in the May 1843 sealings of one of the pairs of 
sisters to her husband, 1 15 was hesitant. Still, begrudging support was better than none, and as a 
reward for her obedience Smith granted Emma’s and his eternal sealing on 28 May. 116 

By mid-summer, however, Emma’s doubts about the divinity of her husband’s doctrine 
had returned, and she was threatening revolt—either indulging herself in a plurality of husbands 
or divorcing her profligate spouse outright " Hyrnm believed he could persuade Emma to 
abandon her opposition, and on 12 July told his brother “(l)f you will write the revelation on 
celestial marriage, I will take and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, 
and you will hereafter have peace.” Smiling, Joseph replied that Hyrnm did “not know Emma 
as well as 1 do.” But "the doctrine is so plain," Hyrnm insisted, “I can convince any reasonable 
man or woman of its truth, purity and heavenly origin.” “Well, I will write the revelation," 
Joseph conceded, "and we will see." He then asked his scribe “to get paper and prepare to 
write ” "I wrote it," William Clayton remembered, "sentence by sentence, as he dictated." 
When Hyrnm returned from reading the revelation to Emma, Joseph asked “how he had suc- 


108 Ibid., 1 April 1843. 

109 Ibid., 18 October 1845; Black, s.v., “Hendrickson. Jordan P." 

110 Nauvoo High Council Minutes. 22 July 1843. 

1 " See Compton, 6-7. 

112 See Smith, "Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy." 37-72. 

13 William Clayton. Affidavit, 16 February 1874, onguial in LDS Archives. 

114 Quoted in George D. Smith An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton 
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1991), 106, 

115 Smith had married Emily Partridge and Eliza Partridge without his wife’s knowledge the 
previous March. When she subsequently agreed to allow him to take wives of her choosing, she 
selected the two sisters. Smith then repeated the ceremony for Emma's benefit. See Compton, 
407-409. 

110 See Scott H. Faulting. editor. An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals 
of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 
1989), 381. 

117 See, for example. Smith Intimate Chronicle. 108 and 117. 



84 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


ceeded " Hymm answered that “he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that 
Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.” His brother “quietly remarked, I told 
you, you did not know Emma as well as I did.’* When Joseph subsequently read the revelation 
to a few other intimate friends, one asked if he could copy it Smith said he had no objection. 118 
Before the end of the week, however, “Emma had so teazed, and urgently entreated him for the 
privilege of destroying it, that he became so weary of her teazing, and to get rid of her annoy¬ 
ance, he told her she might destroy it, and she had done so, but he had consented to her wish in 
this matter to pacify her, realizing that he knew the Revelation perfectly, and could re-write it at 
any time, if necessary.” 119 (Smith’s revelation was later canonized by the LDS Church as Sec¬ 
tion 132 of its edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.) “(F]or the rest of the time,” Hyrum’s son 
later reported, Joseph Smith "was more or less in her power, and all he done hereafter in rela¬ 
tion to this law, was done in secret, unbeknown to Emma.” 120 In fact, Clayton recorded in his 
diary the next month: “This A M. J[oseph]. (Smith] told me that since E[mma]. [Smith] . . . 
resisted the P[riesthood]. (i.e., plural marriage] in toto & he had to tell her he would relinquish 
all (i.e., his wives] for her sake. She said she would given him (the sisters he had married in 
May] but he knew if he took them she would pitch on him & obtain a divorce & leave him. He 
however told me he should not relinquish any thing(.]’’ 121 

When the high council assembled in Hymm Smith’s office on 12 August 1843, talk of the 
prophet’s plural marriages was unavoidable. 1 * 2 Councilor Austin Cowles’s twenty-nine-year- 
old daughter had married Smith the previous June,' 2 ' one of Councilor David Fullmer’s sisters 
had mamed him a month later, 1 * 4 Councilor George W. Harris’s own wife had married the 
prophet,' 25 and Councilor William D. Huntington had taken a plural wife in February 1843 and 
knew that two of his sisters had married Smith in late 1841. 126 Lewis Dunbar Wilson an¬ 
nounced that he was "Satisfied there was something in those rumors, and he wanted to know 
about it." Immediately, Hymm Smith (who would take his first plural wives before the end of 
the month) excused himself, walked across the street to his house, and retrieved the surviving 
copy of his brother’s revelation, which he read to the council and “bore testimony to its 
truth” 127 Hymm "reasoned upon said Revelation for about an hour," remembered Thomas 
Grover, "clearly explaining the same, and then enjoined it upon said Council, to receive and 


118 This copy is currently housed in LDS Archives. 

119 Clayton, Affidavit 

120 Joseph F. Smith, quoted in Utah Stake Historical Record, 4 March 1883, LDS Archives. 

121 Smith, Intimate Chronicle, 117. 

122 The councilors present that day were James Allred, Samuel Bent, Austin A. Cowles, 
Alphcus Cutler, David Fullmer, Thomas Grover, George W. Hams, William D. Huntington, Levi 
Jackman, Aaron Johnson, William Marks, Leonard Soby, and Lewis Dunbar Wilson. 

123 Compton, 6,544. 

124 Ibid., 6. 

125 Ibid., 6,49-53. 

126 See Smith, “Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy,” 48,60. 

127 David Fullmer, Affidavit, 15 June 1869, in "Forty Affidavits on Celestial Marriage,” 
Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, LDS Archives. 


“Illicit Intercourse," Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 85 


acknowledge the same, or they would be damned." 1 * 8 A majority of councilors “agreed and 
assented,” testified Leonard Soby, “believing it to be of a celestial order though no vote was 
taken upon it, for the reason that the voice of the prophet in such matters was understood by us 
to the voice of God to the church, and that said revelation was presented to said Council as 
before stated, as coming from Joseph Smith the prophet of the Lord, and was received by us as 
other revelations had been.” 129 (The council's official minutes record simply: “No business 
before the Council. Teaching by Prest Hiram Smith & William Marks.”) 130 Only Cowles (age 
fifty-one), Soby (age early forties), and stake president Marks (age fifty) would ultimately reject 
the prophet's doctrine; James Allred, Samuel Bent, Alpheus Cutler, Fullmer, Grover, Huntinc- 
ton, Aaron Johnson, and Wilson would all marry plurally prior to the Saints' exodus west. 1 
(Fearing recrimination, both Joseph and Hyrum would publicly assert the following June that 
the revelation referred only to "ancient" and “former days" and had “nothing to do with the 
present times.”) 132 

Less than three weeks later, Councilor Cowles, whose discomfort with plural mamage was 
mounting, 133 formally charged thirty-year-old George J. Adams with "unchristian conduct," for 
"adultery,” "Breach of covenant ” "lying,” "slandering," and "putting the stumbling block of his 
iniquity before his face and raising an image of jealously and causing people to worship it." 
Adams, a former Methodist lay preacher and stage actor, had converted to Mormomsm in 
1840, moved to Nauvoo with his family, and quickly established himself as a compelling, 
persuasive orator. According to his biographer, he also battled alcoholism, was ambitious and 
opportunistic, and possessed a sensitive, pnckly personality. 134 He defended the church in 
England and on the East Coast from 1841 to 1842, winning Joseph Smith's respect, but while 
on a speaking mission to Massachusetts in early 1843. he was abruptly summoned to Nauvoo to 
answer questions regarding a rumored affair. Adams had already confessed to a one-time adul¬ 
terous encounter, 13 word of which had apparently refused to die. , ' f ’ After Adams made a 


128 


Thomas Grover. Affidavit, 6 July 1869, in “Forty Affidavits on Celestial Marriage," 
Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books. See also James Allred. Affidavit, 2 October 1869, in "Forty 
Affidavits on Celestial Marriage," Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books. 


129 
i JO 


Leonard Soby, Affidavit, 14 November 1883, LDS Archives. 


Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 12 August 1843. Smith. History of the Churvh, is silent 
regarding this event. 

111 See Smith, "Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy," 37-72. Levi Jackman would enter 
polygamy sometime before or after Februaiy 1846. 

132 See their testimony in “City Council Regular Session, June 8th (and 10th), 1844,” Nuu\vo 
Neighbor (19 June 1844): 2,3. 

See Soby. Affidavit 

See Reed M. Holmes. The Forerunners (Independence. Missouri. Herald House, 1981), 
14-17,43-44. 

135 "There is one thing I wish to Speak about" Adams wrote. 

Viz—the affair that the lord revealed unio you concerning me and anotherf ] had I done as the 
Spirit directed me I would have confessed everything to you before I left ... I covented with God 
to tel you immediately after the Sin was commitedf] I came to Nauvoo this summer almost on 
purpose to lay the whole transaction before you and take you[rJ council. 1 will do so the first 


133 

134 



86 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


private in-person “acknowledgment” of his actions the following May 1843, including an 
appropriate expression of contrition. Smith announced that he was “perfect[ly] satisfied]’’ and 
told colleagues: “Bro Adams will has now started anew,—and let all present hold their tongues 
and only say that Elder Adams has started anew.” 137 Smith apparently then instructed Adams 
more hilly in the true order of marriage, authorized his taking additional wives, and may have 
even approved an existing or pending plural relationship. 

Thus when called three months later before the high council, Adams "read a document 
from the first Presidency and objected to any thing being brought up previous to the date 
thereof [i.e, 5 June 18431" Joseph and Emma Smith also appeared in his defense. 138 As a 
result, Cowles’s charges were “not sustained." and in view of rumors to the contrary, Adams 
asked that a statement be published attesting to his good character. 139 “This is to certify," the 
council wrote, “that Elder George J. Adams has been honorably acquited by the High Council 
in Nauvoo, from all charges heretofore prefered against him from any and all sources; and is 
hereby recommended as a faithful laborer in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 
and a servant of the Lord that is entitled to the gratitude, confidence, liberality and clemency of 
the Saints and honorably men in all the world." 140 Rather than draw additional public attention 
to the accusations, Joseph and Hymm Smith decided to issue their own announcement: 

Know all men by these presents, before whom this may come, that elder George J. Adams, is 

fully authorized and required from this time forth to travel from place to place, to raise money 


oppertunity. but My Dear Brother don’t think for one moment that I ever was an adulterer at 
heart[ | No God Ik)nows I never was, nor don’t you think we continued to Sin, No we did not, but 
Bowed before the Lord and sought his pardon and determined to Sm no moref.J I was also under 
the influence of many different passions at the time & will tel you all when I sec you ... Oh! Bro 
Joseph don’t forsake me for God knows I never will you nor his church 

—Adams to Joseph Smith (I I October 1842) Joseph Smith Collection 

136 "fNJot that I wish you for one moment to think that I am under transgreshen now or that I 
have been for many months," Adams insisted in late February 1843, 

for I have not.—but some rumers, and repo rts have been set on foot in New York not by the World 
but by envious and jdous Mormons that are Seeking my overthrow and want to make me guilty 
wether I am or not... now My Dear Brother if you can save me without a publick trial, I trust I 
will never forget it while memory lasts, I dont fear any thing the world can do. No! my enimies that 
are seeking my overthrow arc in the Church, there is no evidence against me—and they can get 
none, whatsoever I have done you know, and you also know I have sincerely repented months ago 
... My Dear Wife is with me m Good health and spirits considering cvrything. —Adams to Joseph 
Smith (23 February 1843) Joseph Smith Collection. 

137 Faulnng, 381. Adams denied that he had been tried, demoted, or committed any sin: 
“[SJome say that my license [to preach] was taken from me; that is a lie. Some say I was tried 

before the Twelve; that is also a lie-I never was brought before the authorities of the Church, 

for there was no one to lay charges against me,... Some say 1 confessed to Joseph that the reports 
in circulation about me where [sic] true,; that is another wilful lie ... my standing was never better 
since I came in the Church than at present” Adams to Peter Hess (7 July 1843) in Journal Histoiy. 

1)8 See Faulring, 412; Smith. History of the Church. 6:2 (does not mention Emma Smith). 

139 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 1 and 7 September 1843. 

140 Ibid., 7 September 1843. 




“Illicit Intercourse" Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council. 1840-1844 87 

by donations, contributions, or collections, both from the Saints, and all honorable men of the 
earth, to assist in building the Temple of the Lord at Nauvoo: and he in empowered to give a re¬ 
ceipt for the same; and our prayer is, that the God of Israel will open the hearts of the people, 
that they may give liberally to assist in rolling forth the purposes of God in the last days: and all 
those who give, shall receive the blessings of God. and be rewarded in this world, and the world 
to come. 141 

Such efforts in Adams’s behalf may have been futile, however, as his domestic arrange¬ 
ments had already become common knowledge. “A month ago or more," wrote Charlotte 
Haven, a young non-Mormon living in Nauvoo, 

one of the Apostles [actually a seventy], [George J.] Adams by name, returned from a two 
years' mission in England, bnnging with him a wife and child, although he had left a wife and 
family here when he went away, and I am told that his first wife is reconciled to this certainly at 
first unwelcome guest to her home, for her husband and some others have reasoned with her 
that plurality of wives is taught in the Bible, that Abraham, Jacob. Solomon, David, and indeed 
all the old prophets and good men, had several wives, and if right for them, it is nght for the 
Latter Day Saints Furthermore the first wife will always be first in her husband's affection and 
the head of the household, where she will have a larger influence l4: 

Two years later. Adams was excommunicated for insubordination, joined an offshoot church, 
was expelled for sexual misconducu then formed his own church in 1861. He sailed to Jaffa 
(now Tel Aviv) in 1865 where he hoped to found a settlement for his followers, but returned to 
the United States in 1870. He died in 1880 in Philadelphia. I4> 

The next case of alleged sexual misconduct did not turn on secret knowledge. On either 17 
or 18 November (the minutes arc unclear), Sidney Roberts charged twenty-three-year-old 
Quartus S. Sparks with "seducing and getting a Sister with child by the name of Mary Aber and 
other unchristian like conduct." Sparks and Aber. age seventeen, had recently migrated to 
Nauvoo from the eastern seabord (apparently New York). Aber. “with a child in her arms,” 
testified before the council that "Sparks is the father of said child and that it was got by seduc¬ 
tion and force that she resisted him until 3 o'clock at night when he got the advantage and 
acomplished his purpose." "(T]he crime," she elaborated, 

was committed in a house where the family were unbelievers that in consequence she did not 
cry out, for the sake of the church he being a Mormon Elder knowing they would report the 
same against the Elders of the church, that for the sake of the reproach it would bring upon the 
church she went to Brooklin and hid herself up there until the child was bom and remained so 
five weeks after, before it was known to any one of the church and that she left for Nauvoo un¬ 
beknown to her parents and friends, that when she was about landing at Nauvoo he (Sparks) 
said she must now shirk for herself, that she was at the house of Mr Thomas, and had gone to 


141 "To Whom It May Concern." dated 14 October 1843, in Times and Seasons 4 (15 
September 1843): 329. The Smith brothers may have endorsed Adams again on 7 June 1844; see 
the certificate reportedly signed by Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Voree Herald (October 1846). 

142 Haven to "My Dear friends at home," Nauvoo, Illinois. 8 September 1843. in “A Girl's 
Letters from Nauvoo," Overland Monthly (San Francisco) 16 (December 1890): 635-636. 

145 See Steven L. Shields, Divergent Paths of the Restoration: A History of the Latter Day 
Saints Movement, third edition (Bountiful, Utah. Restoration Research, 1975), 99. See also Reed 
M. Holmes, "G. J. Adams and the Forerunners." in Maurice L. Draper and A. Bruce Lindgren, 
editors. Restoration Studies ll (Independence, Missouri: Temple School, 1983), 42-60. 



88 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 

bed when Sparks came to the house aid came to her bed and persisted in his attempjtjs until 3 
o'clock, she had got up when he got the advantage of her and threw her on the bed and suc¬ 
ceeded in accomplishing his purposes 

Sparks, who believed that he was a victim of circumstance, countered that 
he had gone to bed when Mary Abcr came into his room and sat down after a while he got up 
and went and sat down by her and put his arm around her neck and took other liberties with her 
they then arose and walked across the floor once or twice and then he threw her on the bed and 
then went out of the room to avoid her; and give her a chance to go away, but when he returned 
he found her stil[l) laying on the bed when he could no longer resist, but had intercourse with 
her once and once only, that he did not seduce her but she seduced him 
The couple’s difficulties had surfaced before they left New York (perhaps following the 
birth of their child), and Sparks had reportedly promised to "many Mary Abor or be tried at 
Nauvoo.’’ On their journey west, Aber felt that Sparks had not sufficiently provided for her and 
her baby’s comfort. One of the witnesses called to testify, a Sister Robanks, reported that ini¬ 
tially "she felt much prejudiced against (Aber] in consequence of iniquity... until she saw her 
weeping and that repeatedly(.] her sympathy was awakened in her favor she afterwards con¬ 
versed some with her ... She believed her to have been weeping in consequence of her want of 
food; believes her to have been neglected by Sparks, that Mary Abers conduct was christianlike 
on the passage.” On the other hand, a Brother and Sister Wandle said they were “hurt and angry 
at Mary and a great sympathy for Sparks, on account of the sympathy which the passangers had 
for Mary in consequence of her talking and the many questions that was asked her by the pas¬ 
sengers ... Spark(s] showed a willingness to provide necessaries for and make her (Mary Aber) 
comfortable on this passage ” Sparks too insisted "that he did not neglect her (Mary) on the 
passage.” However, he did admit telling her "when arriving at Nauvoo that she must now shirk 
for herself, that he had done all by bringing her up to Nauvoo that was required of him by God 
or man.” The council concluded that Sparks had in fact seduced Aber and voted unanimously 
to withdraw from him the hand of fellowship. 144 Sparks left Nauvoo for Connecticut, where he 
mamed Mary Holland Hamilton, age twenty-three, in mid-1844. Two years later, they joined 
Samuel Brannan and other Mormon passengers abroad the Brooklyn for Yerba Buena and 
eventually settled in San Bernardino, California, where Sparks died in 1891. His wife died in 
Salt Lake City in 1898. Mary Aber remained in Nauvoo, was endowed in the Nauvoo temple, 
and married Rufus Beach, age fifty, in January 1846.’ 45 

The last two charges of seduction brought before the high council prior to Joseph Smith’s 
death both involved William Henry Harrison Sagers (also "Sagars”). Sagers, age thirty-eight, 
had joined the church in 1833, married Lucinda Madison in 1834, preached Mormonism in 
Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, and finally moved with his wife and sister-in- 
law Phebe Madison to Nauvoo by early 1842 (if not before.) Word eventually spread that 
Sagers and his sister-in-law shared a sexual relationship, and that Sagers justified his actions by 
appealing to the prophet’s example. When Smith learned of the stories, he charged Sagers 
before the high council (joined by members of the Twelve) with "trying to seduce a young girl, 
living at his house by the name of Phebe Madison... [and] using my name in a blasphemous 
manner, by saying that 1 tolerated such things in which thing he is guilty of lying &c. &c.” 


144 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 17 or 18 November 1843. 

145 See Black, s.v. "Sparks, Quartus Strong.” and “Aber, Mary Catherine." 



•‘Illicit Intercourse," Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 89 


Sagers pleaded not guilty, and the council concluded he had been taught "false doctrine,” which 
the prophet corrected, no doubt explaining that plural unions not sealed by the proper authority 
were adulterous. (He also apparently sanctioned Sagers’s relationship with Phebe at this time 
or shortly after.) According to Wilford Woodruff, Smith 

made an address upon the subject which was highly interesting & its tendency was to do away 
with evry evil & practice virtue & Holiness before the Lord That the Church had not received 
any license from him to Commit adultery fornication or any such thing But to the contrary if 
any man Commit adultery He could not receive the Ccslestial Kingdom of God. Even if he was 
saved in any Kingdom it could not be the Ccslestial kingdom 

He said he thought the many examples that had been manifest John C Bennet & others 
was sufficient to show the fallacy of such a course of conduct. He condemned the principle in 
toto & warned those present against going into these evils, for they would shurcly bring a Curse 
upon their heads. 147 

The council then voted to endorse Sagers as a member in good standing. 148 

Over the next several months, Smith continued to educate Sagers (and others) more fully 
on "the doctrine of Celestial Marriage or plurality of wives.” 14 '' Lucinda did not share her 
husband’s vision of the celestial family and did not participate in such instruction. Relations 
between the Sagerses rapidly deteriorated, the two apparently separated, and in mid-April 1844, 
Lucinda formally brought charges against him before the First Presidency and Twelve, alleging: 
Inasmuch as you have declared officially that you will deal with all persons who teach or have 
taught the abominable doctnnc of Spiritual wives. This is to notify you that Hamson Sagars is 
guilty of that said sin, which thing can be proven by credible w itnesses, and if he is not chastised 
for it by the church the law of the land will be enforced against him 

H Sagars left his family in December last[.) since such time he has not provided for them in 
any way what ever. The cause of the innocent dcmand(s) action immediately and you arc the 
ones to take the matter in hand. 

The delicate matter was referred to the high council, which on 13 April ruled that "as the 
first part of the charge had been brought before the Council before ... and he tned on it; that 
the Council had no wright to deal with him on that item And that the Second part was not 
sustained and therefore that he should remain in the Church” 150 Not surprisingly, neither of 
Sagers’s marriages survived, and less than two months later, an embittered Lucinda announced 
that "Whereas my husband, the Rt. Rev. W. H. Hamson Sagers, Esq., has left my bed and 
board without cause or provocation, this is to notify the public not to harbor or trust him on my 
account, as I will pay no debts of his contracting." 1 1 Sagers remained in Nauvoo. was endowed 


Sagers’s biographer feels that he may have "misconstrued" Smith’s teachings. See Ella 
Sagers Swanson, The Sagers Clan (Tucson, Arizona: Ella Sagers Swansoa 1980), 61. 

147 Woodruff, 3:328. Woodruffs account was subsequently recast as an entry in Joseph 
Smith’s history in Smith, History of the Church . 6:81. which mentioned Sagers by nan*. 

148 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 25 November 1843. 

149 Nathan Tanner, Affidavit, 28 August 1869, in "Forty Affidavits on Celestial Marriage” 
Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books. 

150 Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 13 April 1844. See also Smith, History of the Church, 

6:333. 
isi . 


•One Cent Reward," Nauvoo Expositor (7 June 1844):3. 



90 John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 


and married polygamously in the Nauvoo temple in January 1846, moved to Utah with his 
families, helped to settle Tooele (west of Sah Lake City), and died in Idaho in 1886. 152 
Lucinda’s and Phebe’s fates are not known. 


Table 2. Frequency of Meetings and Charges of Sexual Misconduct 
Brought Before the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844 



Number of 

Number of 

Number and Percent of 

Year 

Meetings 

Cases 

Cases Involving Sex 

1840 

32 

13 

0 

0% 

1841 

10 

4 

0* 

0% 

1842 

50 

22 

7- 

31.8% 

1843 

51 

41~ 

15 

36.6% 

1844**** 

14 

6 

1 

16.7% 


Excludes Niswangcr and Clapp vs. Turley. 

Excludes Clapp vs. Turpin 

Excludes a case (Knowlton vs. Willis), which, though mentioned on 30 December 1843, was 


not heard in full and resolved until 6 January 1844. 

The last meeting of the high council before Joseph Smith’s death was on 18 May 1844 

Not all cases brought before the Nauvoo Stake high council during the years 1840 to Jo¬ 
seph and Hyrum Smiths’ deaths on 27 June 1844 involved accusations of sexual misconduct. In 
fact, during the peak year of the council’s tribunals, 1843, only slightly more than a third of all 
cases centered on such behavior. What is instructive is not the number of men and women 
called to account for their illicit actions, but the range of prohibited behaviors and the responses 
to them of the church’s leaders. For even at the fringe of American religious (and in some ways 
sexual) expression. Mormons confronted deviance in an assortment of manifestations and 
guises, some more easily addressed than others. As a divinely sanctioned component of the 
church’s erotic economy, plural marriage not only impacted many Saints’ moral identities, but 
challenged their own leaders’ ability to superintend the sexual lives of a growing congregation. 
That some men and women followed unholy paths speaks not so much to their gullibility, 
rebellion, or lust, or even to others’ self-serving presumption to speak in the prophet’s behalf, as 
it does to Joseph Smith’s calculated decision to adopt a variety of sometimes questionable 
measures in promulgating and practicing his celestial doctrine of “priesthood privileges." ◄ 


152 Black, s.v., “Sagers, William Henry Harrison.’’ Sagers was subsequently cited by LDS 
church apostle (and future president) Spencer W. Kimball in connection with Joseph Smith’s 
declaration that adulterers “cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God.” See The Miracle of 
Forgiveness (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book Co., 1969), 347. Kimball did not note that Sagers was 
found not guilty of adultery.